Wednesday, January 31, 2024

AVCX untimed (Amy) 


LAT 5:22 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker untimed (Amy) 


NYT 4:04 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 8:14 (Emily) 


WSJ 4:58 (Jim) 


Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Social Distancing”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases whose final words could also be units of length.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Social Distancing” · Gary Larson & Amy Ensz · Wed., 1.31.24

  • 18a. [Distance for a barkeep?] TENDER FOOT.
  • 23a. [Distance for a party animal?] GAS METER.
  • 36a. [Distance for a stoner?] BUZZ LIGHT-YEAR.
  • 52a. [Distance for a Chinese sailor?] JUNK YARD.
  • 57a. [Distance for an Aboriginal Australian?] BUSH LEAGUE.

These aren’t bad, but they mostly lack surface sense. And no one refers to a party animal as a “gas” in this century. I did like seeing BUZZ LIGHTYEAR in the grid, but again, surface sense. What stoner is going to have the wherewithal to measure anything, let alone in light-years? (BTW, a light-year is 5.88 trillion miles.)

Fill is mostly workmanlike with highlight “ANY IDEA?” Eyebrow-raisers include DADO, U TUBE, and YREKA (though that was a gimme for me since it’s a regular stopping point when I road-trip from the Puget Sound to the Bay Area).

Clues of note:

  • 14a. [Gazetteer figure]. AREA. I thought this might be referring to a newspaper’s circulation area. It’s not. A gazetteer is “a geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas.”
  • 68a. [They often run late]. MICE. I guess this is referring to the fact that MICE are nocturnal? But though that’s true, I doubt most people think of them in those terms. And they usually “scurry” rather than run, so this clue gets a “meh” from me.
  • 8d. [Pedestal part]. DADO. This word is often clued as a woodworking joint. I wasn’t aware of this definition. It’s the vertical part of a pedestal above the base.
  • 47d. [Complex]. SYSTEM. Used as a noun here, though these are rarely interchangeable (AFAIK).
  • 43a. [Where the Robinsons were lost]. IN SPACE. We also would have accepted [“Alien” tagline “___ no one can hear you scream”].

Three stars from me.

Nathan Hale’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 1/31/24 – no. 0131

Okay, we’ve got a double-fisted theme here. Four “[word] TO [word]” phrases get that TO converted into an -ED A combo instead:

  • 20a. [Prepared to fight Goliath?], READIED A ROCK. “Ready to rock” sounds a lot like that.
  • 34a. [Practiced changing one’s costume by the clock?], TIMED A GET-UP. Time to get up.
  • 41a. [Invested on Broadway, say?], BACKED A WORK. Back to work.
  • 51a. [Betrayed Paddington? … or what 20-, 34- and 41-Across did in this puzzle], CROSSED A BEAR. Cross to bear. In the gray shaded squares, we have a TEDDY bear, SMOKEY Bear, and BOO-BOO Bear.

I wouldn’t have been overly fond of the theme with just the TO-to-ED A change, but the bear crossings added another level.

Fave fill: SKEDADDLE, POLYGRAPH, and a rocky OUTCROP. Wasn’t too keen on a smattering of the shorter fill, though.

3.5 stars from me.

Dan Schwartz & Shannon Rapp’s AV Club Classic crossword, “Record Setting”–Amy’s recap

AV Club Classic crossword solution, 1/31/24 – “Record Setting”

The theme answers are basically L-shaped, with an album title running Down to go before or after the rest of the Across entry. If you don’t know these album titles, it means you’re working the crossings quite a bit to piece things together. Like, I knew “Easy A” was based on The Scarlet Letter, but I had no idea Doja Cat had a 2023 album called SCARLET so that 33a SLETTER took some work.

The theme entries are 1d/1a SOUR CREAM, 12a/17d CROSS-POST, 31a/32d REMOTE CONTROL, 33a/33d SCARLET LETTER, 63d/63a SPECIAL SAUCE, 67a/69d RANDY RAINBOW, 105d/105a DAMN YANKEES, 110a/113d OUTSIDE HELP. I think that’s all of them? I really only knew the Kendrick Lamar and Beatles albums down at the bottom. The theme revealer is 97a. [Release Day event, and a hint to eight pairs of entries in this puzzle], ALBUM DROP, a nice rationale for the theme.

Fave fill: CAT CALENDAR, TOWNIES, BLUE CRABS, “LIKE I CARE,” YOKO ONO‘s full name. Would happily have not encountered 36d ALL after I’d filled in 121a “HI ALL.”

3.5 stars from me.

Aaron M Rosenberg’s Universal crossword, “Crunch Time” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 1/31/24 • Wed • “Crunch Time” • Rosenberg • solution • 20240131

Slight theme conceit in this breezy offering; what it may lack in quality, it makes up for in quantity.

  • 60aR [Hard core … or the starred clues’ answers, based on their initials?] SIXPACK ABS. To wit, there are six theme answers aside from this revealer, each a two-word phrase with that can be initialed A·B.
  • 17a. [*They ring when danger is at hand] ALARM BELLS.
  • 24a. [*Huge promotional push] AD BLITZ.
  • 38a. [*Yellowstone beast] AMERICAN BUFFALO. Of course it’s a bison and not a buffalo, so this clue irks my inner mammalogist. Prefer that the clue had referenced the David Mamet play with that title, even though I’m not a fan.
  • 51a. [*Folklore character who lends his name to an e-commerce company] ALI BABA.
  • 3d. [*Reassurance after tending to a boo-boo] ALL BETTER.
  • 36d. [*Duel personality?] AARON BURR. The constructor’s namesake?

That’s a lot of theme material, even accounting for the two seven-letter entries.

  • 9d [Cookie with 90 radial lines encircling 12 four-leaf clovers] OREO. 20d [Pie chart lines] RADII.
  • 18d [(Wrong answer!)] BZZT, which would have been my immediate answer, but I prudently waited for crossings to eliminate variants.
  • 41d [Dirt on a campaign rival, briefly] OPPO (opposition research). 28a [Participated in an election] VOTED. 50d [Vetoed] NIXED. 57d [Elects (to)] OPTS.
  • 54d [Kind of guitar heard in “Stand By Me”] BASS. It has a memorable bassline.
  • 15a [Get up] RISE.
  • 32a [Response to “Where did the last slice go?”] I ATE IT. Evocative.
  • 43a [Yellowstone beast] ELK. Clued identically to theme answer 38-across, which appears directly above it.
  • 47a [Step heavily] TROMP.

    “stomp some rump” is close enough to ‘tromp’, I feel
  • 67a [Where the Arc de Triomphe is] PARIS. 49d [French farewell] ADIEU.

I mean, seven total theme entries in a 15×15 grid is a lot.

Erik Agard’s New Yorker crossword–Amy’s recap

New Yorker crossword solution, 1/31/24 – Agard

Lovely mid-range themeless from Erik. I do kinda miss the insanely clever clues that deepen his harder puzzles, but he’s adept at writing easier clues, too.

Fave fill: AUTOPILOT, PUDDLE JUMPER, KHADIJAH JAMES (I missed the original run of Living Single in 1993-98, but my husband and I got hooked on the syndicated reruns in the late ’90s and loved the show—you can catch it on streaming. Great characters, zippy writing, good cast), KILL TIME, “WHAT THE HEY,” MMORPGS (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), and SHOGUN.

Four stars from me.

Chris Gross’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

Chris Gross’s theme today features a full-length revealer: ROOMFORDESSERT. It implies you need to add full words of puddings to common phrases and wackiness will ensue. So:

  • [*Bakery employees who offer free samples?], CUPcakeHOLDERS
  • [*Mistakes made while preparing a simple breakfast?], POPtartFOULS. I have no idea what a pop foul is. My money is something baseball-y… yes.
  • [*Comfort food with a high price tag?], POTpieOFGOLD

Other notable answers:

  • [Tourist destination on the Yucatán], CANCUN.
  • [“A Man Called __”: Tom Hanks film based on a Fredrik Backman novel], OTTO. New OTTO angle alert!
  • [Excursion where one might see something brewing?], BEERTOUR. En vogue.
  • [Sleep apnea apparatus, initially], CPAP. Starting to see this in more puzzles?


Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today Crossword, “Mini (Freestyle)” — Emily’s write-up

Don’t be fooled—this puzzle packs a big punch!

Completed USA Today crossword for Wednesday January 31, 2024

USA Today, January 31, 2024, “Mini (Freestyle)” by Zhouqin Burnikel

Favorite fill: BARCAR, SAYNOMORE, ENTRY, and CHO

Stumpers: HARDTOREAD (with this cluing it took me some crossings), LEERIER (also needed crossings), and EGO (excellent cluing though too tricky for me today)

Although listed as a “freestyle” which for USA Today means no theme, there is a “mini” theme in the puzzle. Perhaps there are hard and fast rules as to themes (still being fairly new to the crossword world myself), I would have let this one be used as a theme but perhaps that’s not technically correct. There’s MINNESOTANICE and MISCHIEFNIGHT that contain MI—NI—. Even with the asymmetrical grid design, their placement also visually works within the layout. Regardless, it’s still a fun puzzle with tons of lengthy bonus fill and great cluing, even if some were a bit too tricky for me but all the crossing are fair so my time was average.

4.0 stars


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23 Responses to Wednesday, January 31, 2024

  1. huda says:

    NYT: In my head, these theme entries sound nothing like the phrases they’re supposed to be replacing. I guess it’s because I learned English at a later age, and even though I’ve been in this country for decades, I articulate letters differently from a native American speaker. The fact that a D replaces a T is already a bit of a stretch for me and the DA replacing a To sound is even less obvious. I must hear the blended words and retranslate them in my head into more clearly separated entities.
    My only consolation for never mastering this aspect of the American accent is my grad school friend who was deaf, read lips and regularly turned to me to repeat what was being said because he could understand me better than anyone else. It made us both happy.
    So needless to say a major element of this puzzle went over my head. I got the BEAR names being crossed and got the general idea that there was a play on words in the long answers, and kept looking for the letters in BEAR being somehow buried and scrambled within the theme answers!
    I imagine it could be a fun puzzle if you could hear the similarities. For me, a humbling experience.

    • AlanW says:

      Huda, I’m a native speaker of English, and the long entries sound nothing like those supposed alternate phrases to me, either. Without a hint or a revealer, the reason for the contrived entries baffled me until I read Amy’s review. It isn’t even a simple TO –> EDA replacement, because of the spelling change in READIED.

      The theme entries crossing names of bears felt equally puzzling–lots of other entries cross those bears, too, and that crossing had nothing to do with the first theme (other than CROSSED A BEAR being a theme entry. It seemed completely arbitrary and anticlimactic. Not at all on my wavelength, I’m afraid.

      • JohnH says:

        And it’s not just READI vs READY. If you take seriously what seemed right, EDA to TO, you’d get TIM to get up. I never did make sense of this one. I don’t see how the last themer explains anything, rather than just following the supposed pattern. Maybe that’s why I’m missing where the meaning in the odd substitution comes from. What’s an EDA, and what does it have to do with TO?

        Oh, in the WSJ, YREKA had me sure I’d made a mistake somewhere that I could never locate. Hmmm.

        • huda says:

          Thank you, AlanW and JohnH. Glad to know I’m not alone :)

          • JohnH says:

            Ah, wait. I get it now, thanks not to my own ingenuity, but to Amy’s review and comments here. So, first, it’s not a substitution but a pun that just happens to fall on deaf ear for the like of me (and huda and AlanW). Second, the revealer isn’t meant to reveal what the themers are doing. (Odd.) It’s to call our attention to a second, unrelated theme that my preoccupation with working out the first missed outright, the crossings. And pannonica, always on top of things, adds a third layer, c0nnecting the two themes with a pronunciation of a sports reference, both of which are foreign to me.

            So congrats to the constructor, so I hope you can see why it hasn’t persuaded me. And indeed this could be the lowest-rated NYT ever here, with 4 times as many negatives as positives. Maybe I could excuse its irrelevance to me if the team made Sunday’s Superbowl.

  2. Howard B says:

    Been a while since I had to do this, but I came here not just for the great writeups as usual, but to understand the NYT theme. Thank you for the explanation. Fun fill, though!

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Me too! Had no clue. So to speak.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      The theme was completely lost on me too. I’m still lost about what the DA to TO phrases have to do with bears and why this passed muster with the extraneous ‘i’ in READIED A ROCK and the ‘e’ in BACKED A WORK.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Art Shapiro: Sorry for the Wordle spoiler posted by a rude commenter. We are marking their comments as spam now, which should block most of the mayhem.

  4. Dallas says:

    I may be in the minority on this, but I really liked the NYT theme today; I got the “bears” on the downs right away, but assumed there had to be more; the across themers felt a little weird, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with them. The double revealer hit really nicely; it both said the obvious (the answers CROSSED A BEAR) but then led to the nice realization that it’s a modification of the very different phrase CROSS TO BEAR, which then unlocked the across themers too. It made for a very nice aha moment after a pretty smooth and fast solve.

  5. DougC says:

    WSJ: I liked this a lot more than Jim did. Loved BUZZ-LIGHTYEAR as a unit of distance for a stoner! That was the best of the bunch, but the others made me smile, too. I will concede that I am easily amused by this kind of wordplay.

    I do agree that DADO and U TUBE are worthy of some serious side-eye, however, and that California county seat YREKA is some deep trivia for non-west-coasters, but overall, thought this was a pretty good puzzle, and the best of today’s crossword offerings by quite bit.

    • Seattle DB says:

      I thought the puzzle was good and was going to give it a 3.5, but Shenk’s editing messed up too many clues so I gave it a 2.5.

  6. Sym says:

    TNY: My confusion in the middle stacks somehow got me to PUDDLE-HUMPER which definitely should be some kind of aviation slang

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