Girl Scout emblem / WED 1-5-22 / Wavy fabric pattern / Sommelier's handout / Nickname for a wrangler / Screenwriter who wrote Angels Over Broadway / Italian cheese city / Gerritsen author of romantic thrillers

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Constructor: Damon Gulczynski

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: OPTIMIST v. PESSIMIST (54A: One who identifies with the answers to the starred Across clues / One who identifies with the answers to the starred Down clues)— famous pairs of opposites cross one another, with the more optimistic answer running Across and the more pessimistic answer running (fittingly) Down: 

Theme answers:
  • HALF FULL / HALF EMPTY (20A: *Description of a glass, maybe / 4D: *Description of a glass, maybe)
  • FEAST / FAMINE (9A: *One of two extremes in a saying / 9D: *One of two extremes in a saying)
  • WAR / PEACE (35D: *Word in a classic Tolstoy title / *38A: Word in a classic Tolstoy title)
  • RAIN / SHINE (53D: *Certain forecast / 62A: *Certain forecast)
Word of the Day: TREFOIL (5D: Girl Scout emblem) —
1aCLOVER sense 1broadly  any of several leguminous herbs (such as bird's-foot trefoil) with leaves that have or appear to have three leaflets
ba trifoliolate leaf
2an ornament or symbol in the form of a stylized trifoliolate leaf (
• • •

As I was solving I thought "hey, I really like this," even though I wasn't quite sure what "this" was. They were crossing opposites, but beyond that, the pattern was not entirely clear. Sometimes it was an "and" expression ("WAR and PEACE"), sometimes an "or" (FEAST or FAMINE); sometimes the "bad" part came first (RAIN or SHINE), sometimes the good did (HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY). The fact that the expressions were linked meant that once you got one part of the answer, you could get the whole answer, and thus whole sections of the puzzle, pretty quickly. And the fill, despite enormous theme pressure, was colorful and strong enough that I was happy to toodle along with only a loose conception of what it was all about. I figured all would be explained in the end, and boy was it. I don't think I got the full import of the OPTIMIST / PESSIMIST thing until after I was done; I just thought "wow, how clever to have the PESSIMIST clue play on the word 'Down' like that." You know, 'cause PESSIMISTs focus on the "Down" side of things. And honestly, that little pun was enough for me to feel like the puzzle had given me enough. A little pun flourish at the end, sweet, thank you. It was only a bit later that I actually fully read the OPTIMIST / PESSIMIST clues and saw their specific references to the "starred Across/Down clues." Which meant that the thematic opposites weren't just crossing, they were crossing in this very specific, intentional way: Across good, Down bad. That is the kind of OOMPH I crave from my themed puzzles. Just a lovely touch. Impressive. 

Not many sticky parts today, although right off the bat you get a proper noun that is not going to be universally known, by any means. Ben HECHT has his name All Over the movies I tend to watch (right in the TCM sweet spot: 1930-1960), but even I took one look at today's 1-Across clue and thought (at first) "How the hell am I supposed to know?!" I don't recall ever having seen "Angels Over Broadway" (I saw "Bullets Over Broadway" in the '90s, but that's a Woody Allen film, which I now see was a play on words, cool, only a few decades late on the uptake ...). But after a few seconds I realized the clue was referring to probably the most important screenwriter of his day. "Ben! Didn't recognize you, how are you!?" was what I thought as I wrote him in. After that, I had to deal with the fact that I wanted the answer at 5D: Girl Scout emblem to be TREFOIL, but I had to admit to myself that I had no idea what a TREFOIL actually was. In my head it looked a bit like a fleur-de-lis, but then it also evoked the "foil" that sometimes envelopes little fancy chocolates, so there I was, wanting an answer I couldn't justify wanting because I didn't actually know what it was. When TREFOIL turned out to be right, I thought, "Yes! I am an idiot-genius!" Anyway, TREFOIL is some kind of clover (see Word of the Day, above). 

Biggest mistake of the day was writing in WINE MENU instead of WINE LIST (26D: Sommelier's handout). The MENU was the fishing line part of the answer, i.e. the part that dipped into the unexplored new section, the part that I was relying on to give me a "bite" down there. But you wanna know what I "caught" with MENU? Nothing good, I assure you. I caught MADRID! When what I was after was LISBON—a very Iberian mistake (43A: Home of the Vasco da Gama Bridge, over 7.5 miles long). And now I was locked in on what seemed like two pretty strong but unfortunately wrong answers. Luckily for me, I stalled out quickly, and ZORBA made MADRID an obvious pretender, so I tore out the wrong and worked back from ZORBA until I made the wrong right. 

I remembered UZO Aduba's name today, so I was pleased with that. And I was pleased to see HOOPLA, mainly because it is one of my favorite TV apps—it runs in conjunction with my local library and so everything is free! The selection is erratic, but the quality of the video is fantastic. Buster Keaton aplenty! The only part of the grid that made me wince a bit was ... well, seeing MOIRE again so soon wasn't exactly fun (29D: Wavy fabric pattern), but the bigger issue was seeing both ITTY and ESTOS in the same corner (crossing!). Two notorious over-common kealoas*. Is it ITSY or ITTY? Is it ESTAS or ESTOS!? You don't know, you don't care, but you want to finish your puzzle and you can't until you sort this nonsense out. Truthfully, it's ITTY I hate. ESTOS is like "hey, man, I'm just a word, don't pick on me." But ITTY has no excuses. It's part of that whole awful gang, ITTY ITSY BITTY BITSY EENY EENSY EENSIE TEENY TEENSY TEENSIE OK I probably invented those "-IE" spellings but dear lord, too much cutesy baby talk. They jump in the sea, the whole lot of them. You want small "small" words, I will accept WEE and TINY and SMA, yes, SMA. I will take a heap of folksy Burnsian poeticisms over any of your baby-talky garbage. Here, here's Burns's "To a Mouse" (1786), which has both WEE and SMA. And not an ITTY in sight. Good day.
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
          Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
          Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
          Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
          An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
          ’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
          An’ never miss ’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
          O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
          Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
          Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
          Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
          But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
          An’ cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = short, common fill that you can't just fill in quickly because two or more answers are viable Even With One or More Letters In Place. From the classic [Mauna ___] KEA/LOA conundrum. See also, e.g. [Heaps] ATON/ALOT, ["Git!"] "SHOO"/"SCAT," etc.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Unknown 6:21 AM  

I enjoyed this puzzle but have a gripe that the phrase "rain or shine" is not a forecast, but a removal of conditions for outdoor events. I guess it could be considered a forecast if the idea is "it will not be cloudy without raining, the Weather will make up its mind and do one or the other" but I don't usually see that on channel 11. Also, leaning into the USAir "rebrand" to USAirways in 1997 seems a bit much since most people referred to it as "USAir" anyway until it merged with American and became the Worst Airline in the World.

Conrad 6:24 AM  

Medium. WOEs included the Will & Grace and Mrs. America names. I had raCe before ALCS for the October pennant contest. I shouldda seen sooner that Oct. was an abbreviation, thus inviting an abbreviation in the answer.

Anonymous 6:34 AM  

Rex I'm surprised you didn't complain about the groaner Kealoa ALCS/NLCS.

Anonymous 6:45 AM  

Glad to be here today just for the Burns. Many thanks, Rex.

Frantic Sloth 6:47 AM  

SERA EGGON my SHOE? It probably fell off my face.

I found this one clever and entertaining, even though it went by quickly once I grokked the theme. It seems like it would have required some masterful constructioneering, too. Finding a pile of either/or phrases to fit the grid, while the PESSIMIST(ic) half crosses its OPTIMIST(ic) counterpoint, and all in their correct, relative position? Yeah. I could do that.


Seriously though, impressive construction + enjoyable solve = winner winner chicken dinner.


Lewis 6:51 AM  

Wow. That’s a great theme, IMO. Of course, I caught on early that the theme answers came in pairs, but I didn’t make the positive/negative connection, so when OPTIMIST / PESSIMIST filled in, it was an oh-that’s-very-cool revelation, where I felt simultaneously outwitted, grateful, and in awe. Not only that, but the “pairs” element of the theme answers actually helped me solve in a couple of places, which is a hallmark of a terrific theme.

I love how the brain fills in empty squares, i.e., with just the N I had no idea the answer was FAMINE, given that its clue gave nothing away, but as soon as the M appeared, the word popped into my head. Those little suddenly-see-the-answer moments happen so often in every puzzle and are so satisfying.

I learned JIABAO and TREFOIL, and loved coursing the O-trail of POGO, ERGO, MICRO, UZO and AMINO.

Quality from top to bottom here, Damon. You are such a credit to Crosslandia. Thank you so much for this!

thfenn 6:52 AM  

I thought this was a brilliant Wednesday. Hadn't taken in the added beauty of PESSIMIST, and the perspectives associated with being such, going 'down', but that's just icing on the cake. I started with the downs today, despite it being bright and sunny in London and me feeling optimistic and SPRY and all, and had 'shattered' in first, jumped to the reveal and thought PESSIMIST might work, and optimistically figured I was off to the races, but backing out of that mess was a pleasure as the theme emerged. Also thought it was HECHe, and spent some time at the end figuring out why I couldn't finish, since an eREFOIL was as much 'a thing' to me as a TREFOIL, but nevermind. Also thought IFSAY and ANDSO pairing up as an extra 'same clue different answer' entry was fun. Perfect start to the day.

Happy New Year to all.

Z 7:04 AM  

All that theme material put a lot of pressure on the grid so we end up with all these sections of tiny words which are mildly annoying to solve. 13 three letter words through the middle. Granted, we avoided EnoOnoErn, but it’s hard to make AXE WAX and UZO’s ID’S interesting. I generally like Gulczynski‘s puzzles, but just because of how the grid is in the middle this is probably my least favorite of his puzzles that I’ve done. Speaking of Gulczynski, he just posted 10 things I like and don’t like about crossword puzzles. I mostly agree with him (#4&10 being exceptions).

This is the fifth time for a Will and Grace ADLER clue. Better than an Alfred ADLER clue I suppose, but give me the planetarium or Irene ADLER, please. The three season reboot probably means Grace ADLER will be crossworthy for a few more years, but it is a piece of tv sitcom trivia I wish were not stuck in my head. It’s times like this when I ponder the niche crossword knowledge I’ve accumulated. I’m fairly certain that crossword muggles do not have this much knowledge about the surname ADLER.*

I smirked at Rex’s WINE menu mistake because I was just about to write “menu” and stopped myself, saving many precious nanoseconds. 50A could be SCI, but I couldn’t think of any grade school subjects starting with N, so WINE LIST it was. I needed a few more crosses before the now obvious LISBON came into view, but I avoided the possibility of thinking it might be Madrid. Whew.

At any rate, a decent enough puzzle with too many three letter answers and a chopped up grid preventing it from being a great solve.

*Crossword muggle - Maybe we should call them “Cruggles”

Lewis 7:04 AM  

Oh, a must-read for regulars here, Damon's blog post for today (which he mentions on his comment in XwordInfo): .

Phillyrad1999 7:17 AM  

Enjoyable puzzle but would be happy to never see itty or it’sy again.

kitshef 7:21 AM  

Nice theme, and overall I enjoyed it. Thought it was easier than yesterday’s.

If I were giving advice to aspiring constructors, especially for early-week puzzles, I would say it’s a bad idea to have the most obscure answer in your grid appear at 1A. Didn’t ruin things for me today, but it is a bad feeling when you see the clue for 1A and know immediately 1) you don’t know the answer 2) when you get the answer from crosses, you still won’t know it. There is not a screenwriter in the world named “Ben” I have ever heard of. A clue of “A last name” would be exactly equivalent for me. Damon of course is far from an aspiring constructor.

Again, nice theme, and overall I enjoyed it.

Anonymous 7:32 AM  

Loved this puzzle.

Rex doesn't mention this, but the real problem with ITTY/ITSY is that it doesn't exist independently. No one ever said something is ítty. That's only half of the (admittedly silly) expression. The way this word is usually clued is simply not accurate.

Z 7:36 AM  

I’m curious about others’ take on this from @Lewis:
Not only that, but the “pairs” element of the theme answers actually helped me solve in a couple of places, which is a hallmark of a terrific theme.
I prefer a theme so clever that the revealer clue actually reveals, where I solve the puzzle and get to the revealer and have that “aha moment” of everything coming together at the end. I find myself mildly disappointed when I suss out the theme at the first theme answer, so being able to use the theme to help with the solve is more of a demerit in my opinion. Not that this is always the case, there are times where using the theme or conceit is actually required to finish the puzzle (the 12/29 AVCX puzzle, for example). @Lewis is hardly alone as I’ve seen this sentiment expressed before, some even going so far as to say the theme is supposed to help with the solve. Clearly this is a matter of taste as much as anything, but I’m curious where people land on this.

kitshef 7:41 AM  

@Z, @Lewis. Interesting post by DG. I disagree with 1), 2), and 3). 2) was particularly odd, as he says he hates reliance on word lists then talks about the four word lists he uses.

On 4), most duplications I don't notice and they are fine in moderation, but there are limits.

And on 7), the sentiment is valid, but not the example. Priyanka Chopra is not a well-known celebrity and is not crossworthy.

Son Volt 7:42 AM  

The HALF FULL x HALF EMPTY cross at the common F is outstanding. Theme was solid - but I think a little loose and overdone. The center diagonal stack really gloms up the flow. Building this couldn’t have been easy.

The overall fill was slick - liked TREFOIL, INCITES and HOOPLA. No idea on the Will and Grace character. I’ve come to realize thru crosswords just how many TV shows that I had no interest in had some type of popularity.

Surprised Rex didn’t give props to Ben HECHT for his favorite Christmas movie.

Enjoyable Wednesday solve.

Anonymous 7:50 AM  

Mikey likes it ! Hey Mikey.

smalltowndoc 7:56 AM  

Clever, well-designed, where the theme helps solving the puzzle. I enjoyed it.

GILL I. 8:10 AM  

Yes...I was impressed. I took out my little bag of AAH'S and OOH's and placed them hither and yon. I like this one, I said....I like Damon's puzzles. I wouldn't mind having a drink with him at my UZO bar.
I guess if I'm going to be a pill, I will complain about HECHT at 1A. I'm terrible with names; I can't even spell mine correctly. I had to google that one, and boy, I'd rather eat kale mixed with okra than to call upon "Mr Know-it-all" on a Wed. I did do the fandango tango though, with ADLER and UZO. I actually remembered them from other puzzles.
I got to the reveal and did another dance. PESSIMIST/OPTIMIST. Cool frijoles. Then I noticed the up/down symmetry and let out another whoop. Damon is good at these things. He knows how to elicit a SMILE
I never know which is better. Is it ok to be HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY? If my wine glass is HALF EMPTY, I'll ask the Sommelier for more. If it's HALF FULL and he wants to pour me more, I'll say I'm fine (unless it's a really good Lodi which case I'll ask for the bottle).
@Rex...If a name has a "da" in it as in Vasco da Gama, it will always be Portuguese . If the middle is "de" it will most likely be Spanish. Your lesson for the day.

mmorgan 8:24 AM  

Rex liked it! Me too! When I see a screenwriter named Ben my knee immediately jerks HECHT, so no prob there. I also had WINE menu, but not for long. The only good thing about kealoas, maybe, I think, is that they make tiny (itty?) speed bumps out of what would otherwise be instant gimmes. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

SouthsideJohnny 8:31 AM  

Enjoyed the way it was pretty straightforward and slightly on the easy side for a Wednesday. Like some others, I was disappointed in the 1A/TREFOIL beginning. The only other speed bumps were IFSAY (does anyone really say that - is it a phrase or a word?) and of course the nap-inducing nonsense ESTOS and ITTY (crossing, no less). I've watched dozens of Will and Grace episodes and didn't know (or care) about last names - hats off to those of you who do recollect such things.

Liveprof 8:36 AM  

Other theme candidates: 1. SHE LOVES ME (across), crossed by NOT (down). 2. For a vegetarian: MEAT (down) POTATOES (across). 3. For my son with his newborn: NAP (across) TANTRUM (down). And this doesn't quite work but it would have been nice to see MOIRE across (instead of down at 29) crossed by LOESS.

Anonymous 8:37 AM  

Good theme, but easily grokked and made for a fast fill. Would have been better as a Tuesday.

Trey 8:44 AM  

@Z and @Lewis - the answer to your question depends on how it is constructed. I liked today's theme in that you still had to work hard to get the first answer, which was a big clue to the second. The clue was not so obvious that even the first answer was a gimmee. For example, if the 4D clue had said "An unfavorable view of a glass", it would have been too easy to figure out that the theme was OPTIMIST v PESSIMIST. As clued, there were too many options - plastic (for those who use "glass" as a generic term for any drinking vessel akin to a cup), etched, stemmed, etc etc. So, in this case, the first part of the pair helped the second, but the first part was still a challenge and required crosses to get. Since the words crossed each other, the crosses to help one part of the pair helped the second part of the pair, so I am not sure that the first answer was any more help than the surrounding fill. Regardless, I thought that this was well constructed and quite enjoyable.

Funny to see MOIRE back after the discussion yesterday. Great on the 3-letter fill. Of the answers, only 2 were an abbreviation (IDS and SCI - I do not count UNI as an abbreviation since people in England actually say that as a word)

mathgent 8:44 AM  

I outlined the four crossing opposites in red. It turns the grid into a pretty little picture.

Damon G's puzzles invariably delight me. Probably because we think alike. I agree with all ten of his likes and dislikes in puzzles. There's a link to his list in Z's comment at 7:04.

Rex says that Bullets Over Broadway is a play on words. I don't see it.

I loved Candid Camera, especially in its early days in the 50's. I still remember the talking mailbox stunt.

bocamp 8:55 AM  

Thx Damon; I was OPTIMISTIC for success on this fine puz! :)


Had fits trying to figure out who the 'detective' was at 17A. Didn't know the Girl Scout emblem, so was left with SMILy, SMILi or SMILE. Finally looked more closely at the clue, and had a good laugh at expense of self. 😂

"'Trefoil' means three leaves. Each leaf in the traditional or contemporary Girl Scout trefoil stands for a part of the Girl Scout Promise – 1) to serve God and my country, 2) to help people at all times, and 3) to live by the Girl Scout Law." (Girl Scout Service Unit 527 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The NE was a bit of a challenge, but eventually got FEAST / FAMINE, which made the rest somewhat easier.

Fun puz; liked it a lot! :)

@TTrimble (1:55 PM yd)

Having lived in Hawaii, that word was a gimme (except for the terminal vowel).

@okanaganer 👍 for 0 dbyd

My final word, too; likely the one @TTrimble described.
yd pg -2* (tb'd) / dbyd 0*

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

amyyanni 8:56 AM  

Splendid! Very entertaining and satisfying to solve. Even enjoyed waving at Erma Bombeck again.
Question: do we hate bitty/bitsy as much as itty/itsy?

Anonymous 9:00 AM  

I've known TREFOIL since I was old enough to eat a Girl Scout cookie. Where I grew up, their shortbread cookies were called TREFOILs. But as I learned a few years ago, the names of the cookies (and even the recipes) vary from one region to another, as they have contracts with two different bakeries.

jberg 9:13 AM  

I was inclined to be peeved at the 3X3 boxes at the poles of this grid, but then I had to admire how he managed to get 2 Xes into the top one; then when I saw UZO I was hoping there'd be a second Z there, but that was too much to ask for.

@Rex is right about Ben HECHT. He's pretty famous, but not current. My first thought was 'how am I supposed to know screenwriters, unless they're Nora Ephron,' but then I checked 1D, saw the H, and realized that of course I did know him. But I'm 78, you young things may not.

@Z, I'm one who prefers to solve the puzzle, then try to figure out what the theme is-- or rather, start solving and try to figure it out before I get to the revealer. But de gustibus...

Anonymous 9:19 AM  

Z, I saw you took the trouble early this morning to go back to yesterday's comments and answer a question. Perhaps you'd do me the same courtesy.
Again, how is J.K. Rowling a bigot? What is a woman? Finally can a woman have a penis? Thanks in advance.

pabloinnh 9:26 AM  

Well this was simply wizard, as we say at the UNI. After a flying start of ERMA and TREFOIL, Mr. HECHT appeared from the dusty corners of Memory Attic. Always fun when that happens. Went straight down the left coast, just having a fine old time, and had a similar experience with the rest of this one.

I think the scientific answer to is the glass HALFEMPTY or HALFFULL is that the glass is too big.

That cloth clue is something we're seeing MOIRE and MOIRE.

Also found it amusing that OFL could think that there's a 7.5 mile bridge in Madrid, which is almost exactly in the middle of Spain. Ay ay ay.

So let me say Wednesdazo! to you, DG, and many thanks for a Damned Good puzzle.

pmdm 9:29 AM  

I tend to dislike puzzles from this constructor that fall into the harder category because the proper names fall flat on me. Today, I very much enjoyed the puzzle because I found proper name crosses all fair.

Which prods me to say the following. Natick sounds like a real word that describes something. Kealoa does not, to me. Does it seem contrived? Don't know, but I would predict it will not catch on like natick did except maybe on a site like this one. There should be a better word that describes the problem.

To answer Z's question, I would offer the following. The theme can be ignored when solving easy puzzles. As the difficulty level increases, so does my reliance on the themed entries to help me solve the puzzle. With a puzzle like today's, the theme helped me a lot, since War and Peace seemed simple to me. On Sunday's, figuring out the theme usually helps me solve the puzzle. I think most Friday and Saturday puzzles would seem easier to me if they included themes. And I consider understanding the theme to be (sometimes) a meta puzzle that I enjoy solving (and which I am not always successful at doing). Perhaps this is more a riff on a subject than an answer to a question, but it's more fun composing this type of comment than driving in a wintry weather mix.

Kevin Uy 9:30 AM  

Also a kealoa in the NE corner with ALCS/NLCS

Z 9:36 AM  

@Anon9:19 - Sir, this is an Arby’s.

pmdm 9:37 AM  

egsforbreakfast: In response to your post yesterday, no I did not claim Sharp ever composes comments that will drive a person to suicide. It was only an example trying to refute what I consider an inaccurate statement. There may be many reasons many criticize Sharp's blogs, but mean-spiritedness (except maybe involving Shortz and the NYT in general) is not one of them.

And I also am tired of Harry Potter entries. I could care less about the author when I am solving the puzzle, but enough is enough.

Unknown 9:43 AM  

Ok, I'll bite: what's the play on words in "Bullets Over Broadway"?

RooMonster 9:44 AM  

Hey All !
*My stupid phone keeps going out of service in my house, preventing me from posting my witty repartee. It's really aggravating! Trying online this time.

Saw a funky Blocker pattern when I looked at puz. Turns out there are 42 Blockers, same as YesterPuz, but seems like there's more. But once I figured out the Double-Theme, that nit went out the window.

Holy moly, what an ambitious theme. Five sets of opposites crossing, and as Rex said, clean fill considering the enormous constraints. Forgivable even that the Themers aren't completely symmetrical. Wondering how much hair Damon has left after this. And how many iterations this grid went through. Why would you do this to yourself, Damon? Har.

AND SO I will skedaddle, cursing my phone as I go. :-)

yd -5, should'ves 1

Four F's

Tom T 9:44 AM  

Hidden Diagonal Word (HDW) clue today:

Inflation no. (3 letters, answer below)

Complete blank on the TREFOIL, and first went with HECHe, so had to sort that out before happy music.

Drew a blank forever before FEAST & FAMINE flashed, so NE was slow.

A second recent MOIRE will help me remember it when it comes around again next year!

Fun theme .. nice Wednesday.

HDW answer:

PSI (begins at 51A/D, moves SE)

Unknown 9:45 AM  

@ Anonymous 9:16 Please just leave it alone.

A great puz.
My only raised eyebrow was the RAIN/SHINE opposition, as "SHINE" is not a forecast. But that's really nit picking. This was so cleverly done, and the theme put so many constraints on the constructor, it's really hard to complain about anything here.

Lewis 9:48 AM  

@Z -- I'm glad you brought it up. Yes, if a theme is so obvious that it gives away the whole ball of wax, then it is a letdown, giving too much away. It doesn't help the solve, it *is* the solve, and if you get it early, then the puzzle just becomes fill-in rather than figure-out. I'm with you there.

But if the theme gives you a key that helps you unlock the solve, but you still have to work, using that key, then the theme has helped you through the solve but hasn't killed the joy. You have your aha early which feels just as good as getting it at the end, and, in the best themes, it gets you more involved because you have an extra layer of work to meet the theme's requirements.

Sometimes, like today, there wasn't that extra layer, but as @trey points out, you still had to work throughout; after figuring out the theme, the solve didn't become mechanical. But you were rewarded for figuring out the theme, because it gifted you with two answers for the price of one. And, for me, there were the two extra elements that still surprised me at the end -- the positive / negative aspect of the theme squares which OPTIMIST / PESSIMIST revealed, and the fact that the "Debby Downer" half of the theme pairs were answers that ran downward.

Nancy 9:58 AM  

Very cute, clever and well-crafted. But I must say that, based merely on HAL------ at 4D, I already had not only HALF EMPTY but I had one of the two revealers, PESSIMIST, without reading the revealer clue. Then, as soon as I had the HAL at 20A, I had HALF FULL and knew that OPTIMIST would also be a revealer.

Am I too cute, clever and well-crafted for my own good?:)

Well, actually, I did hit some resistance in the NE. Didn't know ADLER or ALCS -- and even with --MINE in there, it took me forever to see FAMINE/FEAST. I needed to think of TROY first -- and eventually I did.

Loved the puzzle. Oh, and btw, whenever I take one of those "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" tests, I can never cheat my way into optimism -- no matter how hard I try:)

burtonkd 10:12 AM  

In the spirit of the puzzle, I planned to read Rex then Lewis, but today was the Rare Rex Rave. Would it be an even rarer Lewis pan to balance the universe, guess not…school canceled for ice today, so it’s all roses today.

Micro/macro another possible kealoa, not so much today

Newboy 10:13 AM  

As an OPTIMIST i loved it; BET any PESSIMIST will hate it.

kitshef 10:14 AM  

@pmdm 9:29. I've always liked "Schrodinger" for the situation for which Rex uses "Kealoa".

jae 10:17 AM  

Easy. TREFOIL was a WOE for me too so I had something to Google and learn. I somehow knew Ben HECHT but needed some crosses for Grace’s last name. @Z where is Irene when you need her? Delightful, liked it a bunch!

Bree140 10:17 AM  

Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.

To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
'Good-bye,' said you, 'forget me.'
'I will, no fear', said I.

If here, where clover whitens
The dead man's knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the TREFOILed grass,

Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.

A.E. Housman

TJS 10:19 AM  

I usually ignore themes until after the fill, but' obviously you can't ignore this theme because the cluing keeps referring to it. For me, it just made an early week difficulty level ridiculously easy. Pretty much a "look what I did !" puzzle. But I realise that the constructor does not choose the day the puzzle appears.

Interesting that so many felt that Ben Hecht was unknowable to so many. But I know from my experience with my five kids that whenever I brought home a rental from Blockbuster that was black and white, the kids would abandon ship within minutes. So there is a definite familiarity gap there based on color vs. black and white eras.

Off to read the comments on crosswords by Mr.G. Thanks to Lewis and Z.

VancouverNana 10:23 AM  


EdFromHackensack 10:24 AM  

I got FEAST/FAMINE on the NE. Once the theme presented itself, the puzzle unfolded nicely. I admire the construction, particularly how the down clues were PESSIMIST and across were OPTIMIST. Hey, Rex even liked it! A rare day, indeed

nyc_lo 10:25 AM  

Glad I’m not the only one who was hung up in the north east. FEAST or FAMINE took forever to click, as did ADLER, ALCS, IFSAY, and TROY. When the clouds finally parted on ADLER, the rest fell in pretty quickly, but it definitely pushed things into the medium-challenging time range for me. Still, as Rex said, a clever and well constructed puzzle.

Nancy 10:29 AM  

Thanks, Lewis, for sending me over to to look at Damon's likes and dislikes in crosswords. This kind of helps explain the email Will Shortz sent Will Nediger and me yesterday.

Our Sunday puzzle will appear on January 23. Along with letting us know, WS asked us a bunch of questions for his Sunday brief constructors' bio. They included:

• What are your favorite crosswords to solve?

• Do your puzzles different from others' puzzles in some way? Do you have a "style" ... or pet peeves (things you try to avoid)?

Now I know why these questions might have been on his mind yesterday.

I answered those questions and a few others at some length, as is my wont. If he can find room for even six words of what I wrote, it will be a lot. Of course everyone here already knows what kinds of puzzles I like, so it hardly matters:)

puzzlehoarder 10:31 AM  

With the exception of the NE corner this puzzle was Monday easy. With the NE it was still closer to a Tuesday. ALCS looks like something incurable.

yd pg-1,. dbyd -0

Georgia 10:32 AM  

He's realizing that "Bullets Over Broadway" is a twist, a clever homage, to "Angels Over Broadway" 50 years earlier.

Newboy 10:35 AM  

Thanks @Gil for the de/da hint…something useful to remember. As to @z question, I have to put a hand up for the @Trey response—especially as @Lewis refined it. Guess that clearly puts me in the base camp of MT. KEA/LOA where @Mathgent’s “de gustibus” resides (españa?).

Carola 10:38 AM  

Elegant puzzle! I'll give it an "easy," as an old ex-Girl Scout (-->HECHT x TREFOIL) who uses the phrase FEAST or FAMINE a lot - so I saw theme early, making the rest go fast. Like some others, I hit my only snag at ADLER x ALCS. Favorite non-theme pair: COMMIT HOOPLA. I also noticed SCIence over OPTIMIST...

burtonkd 10:44 AM  

Damon’s 10 things list reads like he won’t be visiting this site any time soon. He confirms the voice in my head that asks if we really need to complain about alot/aton of this stuff.

@Z, I enjoy when I pick up a theme more than half way through and it helps me get the last few stubborn holdouts; this is the case more often on a Sunday. Agreed that turning a puzzle into a fill in the blanks isn’t optimal.

Tom T 11:01 AM  

Regarding the rain/shine pairing, I think perhaps the intent is not a literal weather forecast, but a more figurative reference to bad/good times. Like the old song, "I'm gonna love you, come rain or come shine.

pabloinnh 11:03 AM  

@Z-I like trying to guess the theme when it's clear there's a theme involved. I like it better when the theme is a total surprise that I should have seen.

What? 11:09 AM  

You may not get an answer from Z so here is mine.
Physically, a woman cannot have a penis (let’s not get into surgery).
Psychologically, a woman can.

JC66 11:10 AM  

Hey, all SBers, you might enjoy WORDL. Check it out.

JD 11:13 AM  

If you worked in an office full of suburbanites who were selling Girl Scout cookies for their daughters, you'd know that the shortbread cookies in the shape of a clover are called Trefoils. Never could understand why that nice little butter cookie had that cumbersome name, but it helped me get the answer.

Trefoils are the Jerry West of Girl Scout cookies.

I was all the way down to War and Peace when the half burnt incandescent flickered on, "Waaiit a minute 🤔!" A theme I could see!

Worked it from top to bottom, except for that NE corner, Adler, Edify, Ifsay & Troy (actuaries). Walked away, came back, and scene.

From last night:

@JC66 and @Teedmn, yep that was my pangram.

@egsforbreakfast, never heard of the hoopoe. What a gorgeous bird!

@Z, Stella Adler.

TJS 11:14 AM  

Wait, ex-girl scouts are easy?? Why didn't I know this when it might have mattered ?

Wow, that top ten article could have been written just for us, No?
My fave comment : "People understand context and it can be condescending to behave as if they don't." Amen.

I would like to thank all of us for not feeding the troll today.

Joseph Michael 11:19 AM  

Thanks to Damon for this Wednesday morning FEAST. (And glad it came with a WINE LIST) Loved the fact that the negative extremes are all Downs. Happy to see that Rex’s glass today is HALF FULL for a change.

Hardest theme pair to figure out for me was FEAST or FAMINE thanks to ADLER and ALCS, which were unfamiliar, and IF SAY and EDIFY, which did not come easily. Thank you to Doris Day for helping me unlock that corner.

A cruciverbalist enigma. Why is it that AROAR appears frequently in the NYT crossword but is not recognized as a word by the NYT Spelling Bee?

The Optimist
Well, that bear he has gone and he’s treed me
Makes you wonder for supper. who’ll feed me
There’s a dandy view
From here, anyhoo
And I’ll outwait the rascal if need be.
—Wes Vogler

Jeff B. 11:27 AM  

Love the theme. Enjoyable puzzle. The only complaints: ADLER (who's supposed to know that?), MOIRE, and TREFOIL (Huh?). Who cares about minor issues like ITTY? And I liked HECHT, which for a movie buff is not difficult. The Vasco da Gama Bridge clue was fresh and enjoyable. Would love to go to Lisbon. As a baseball fan, ALCS was OK for me.

Thanks for getting the day started with an OOMPH, Damon. I EXALT you.

Whatsername 11:32 AM  

Wow! It’s been a while since I enjoyed a puzzle this much! I can sometimes be a bit of a PESSIMIST and started this one with my glass of expectations HALF EMPTY. But this lovely FEAST of entertainment was FULL of everything a good crossword should be. AND SO I SAY - thank you so much Damon! More please. More Wednesdays like this.

camilof 11:51 AM  

Wow– I'm in shock. I came here fully expecting Rex to hate hate hate this as much as I did. And most everyone else. At least for someone in his late 40s this felt so fusty– no fresh clues or cluing, excessive amount of 3-letter answers, super broken-up grid. Hecht? Adler? Erma? Moire? Pogo? Ergo? Tithe? Synod? US Air? Zorba? Etc. etc. *yawn* Anything but spry. Also, 'puss' is just gross, Adler x ALCs is a Natick, and as a native Spanish speaker, please stop cheating by putting Spanish pronouns in there.

I liked the clue for Chess, I guess.

As the kids say, this puzzle was way cheugy. ಠ_ಠ

JD 11:59 AM  

@Unknown 6:21, The tune Come Rain or Come Shine

I'm gonna love you, like no one loves you
Come rain or come shine
High as a mountain, deep as a river
Come rain or come shine ...

But personally, I'm more a fan of come hell or high water.

@Jeff B., I know a few people have been up in arms over Moiré but I'm not sure it's that obscure. I had a few Moiré throw pillows and a black velvet and Moiré dress that probably made me look like a pillow. ALCS other the hand was new to me.

Georgia 12:02 PM  


upstate George 12:02 PM  

@Bree140, thanks for the Housman. He flirts with doggerel, but never quite falls in.

Joe Welling 12:07 PM  

Is anyone else having difficulty loading the puzzle in a browser the last few days?

Guerin Wilkinson 12:19 PM  

ADLER? Hell with that!

egsforbreakfast 12:22 PM  

I didn’t mention a surprising MOIRE fact yesterday, but now that it has slinked in for a repeat appearance, I will. If you buy an entire bolt of MOIRE fabric, some of the sellers include a warning label about the propensity of such patterns to cause dizziness, disorientation and even seizures in some people. So think twice before decorating your whole house in MOIREs!

I loved this puzzle. It is a great execution of a great concept. The one itty nit I have is the use of “identifies” in the revealer clues. This isn’t even a nit, since it all worked well and smoothly. But I found myself thinking “Does a PESSIMIST actually identify with WAR, FAMINE and RAIN? I am, unfortunately, somewhat of a PESSIMIST (despite trying to cheat like @Nancy on personality tests), but I don’t identify with WAR, FAMINE and RAIN. OTOH, the clue for PESSIMIST wouldn’t be improved by changing it to “One who inherently believes that the natural order of things runs predominantly toward the answers to the starred Down clues.” Probably not a good idea to go all Heidegger on a crossword puzzle.

Thanks for a lovely Wednesday, Damon Gulczynski.

bocamp 12:31 PM  

@JC66 (11:10 AM)

Thx! Looks like a winner; my word-salad platter overfloweth! :)

Available for play here.
td pg -3*

Peace ~ Compassion ~ Tolerance ~ Kindness to all 🕊

Masked and Anonymous 12:45 PM  


M&A likes almost everydarnthing about crosswords, so my list would suck. Will just go with the five things I like most: UUUUU.

staff weeject pick: The entire weeject nooks rodeo, goin on in the N & S pole regions. Like.

42 black squares in this puppy, probably high-ish due to tryin to corral them ten themers (includin the revealers).

Not too tough a WedPuz, but did lose precious nanoseconds tryin to uncover the mysterious WEN, TREFOIL & ADLER work-arounds. And maybe a little more on them ALCS/NLCS & ITTY/ITSY kealoa dealies, I reckon. All that stuff left my puz HALF-EMPTY, for a short spell.

Thanx for the fun, Mr. Gulcyzynski dude. Real good job.

Masked & Anonymo3Us


GILL I. 12:53 PM  

@JD 11:59....Hah! We've never met, but for some reason I've pegged you as this petite woman who might wear designer jeans...!!!! Certainly not looking like a BioPedic bed pillow. know what else MOIRE is used for? Yep, you guessed right. It's used as lining material for coffins. May you rest in peace and comfort......

kitshef 12:56 PM  

@Z - on Thursday and Sunday, I prefer a theme that makes solving initially feel challenging, frustrating, nigh impossible until you figure out the theme, after which it becomes solvable.

On Monday - Wednesday, I know the NYT will never do that, as those puzzles are expected to be easier. On those days, I like a theme that you can think about as you solve, to give a little something extra to think about when (mostly) the clues don't.

Photomatte 1:06 PM  

This was really easy except for one very sticky part: I never heard of Ben Hecht nor have I ever heard of a Trefoil. I've heard the name Heche before so I stuck that in there and thought sure, I can imagine an erefoil on a Girl Scout uniform.... LOL. Got done with the puzzle and then got the message there was something not right so I painstakingly went through each answer, looking for typos. Nope. Luckily, my only real guess was that last E in 1 Across so I just went through the alphabet until I hit T. Solved!

Photomatte 1:10 PM  

One more thing. When Rex says "Sometimes it was an "and" expression ("WAR and PEACE"), sometimes an "or" (FEAST or FAMINE); sometimes the "bad" part came first (RAIN or SHINE)," I had to laugh out loud. You'd think the first example of Bad vs Good would be the WAR and PEACE answers, not RAIN or SHINE.

Teedmn 1:11 PM  

I misread 26D's clue and was looking for a four letter word to follow WINE that would be equivalent to "cellar", i.e. the sommelier's hangout.

Thanks, Damon, this was a nice Wednesday puzzle!

JD 1:18 PM  

@Gill, Har! The dress was a tight black velvet strapless on top, drop waist with a Moiré skirt section that puffed out a bit. I probably looked more like a ballerina that could pop up in a music box coffin. My new style is anything with an elastic waistband.

I dropped by to add this to the conversation. From this week's New Yorker, which said that Betty White and Allen Ludden were friends with John Steinbeck who "gave them the first draft of the acceptance speech that he wrote for his Nobel Prize in Literature ... and allowed his famous dog, Charley, to drool on a fancy black skirt of hers. (She saved it in its slimed state, as a memento.)" I'm sure it was Moiré.

old timer 1:45 PM  

I too had race before ALCS, and my writeover was putting in NLCS. Probably because that's the series that matters to us Giants fans (or Dodger haters). But as befits my age, I wanted HECHT from the start, and what with the crosswordese AROAR, had HALF at once, making the FULL/EMPTY pair self-evident. The rest was pretty Easy, and I thought some people would think, too Easy for a Wednesday.

Another Girl Scout dad here, so TREFOIL was obvious. Though oddly enough, Indian Princesses was my favorite, as it gave us dads the opportunity to party hearty on campouts.

While LISBON was obvious, I was asking myself, why didn't I ever drive across that bridge? Answer: Still under construction when a friend of mine and I went there. Having gone all the way around the coast in the summer of 1966, the lack of a bridge was our reason for heading East to Spain at that point. Fortunately, the new bridge from Oporto to Villa Nova had been built, though I still do not know how we were able to drive after tasting port in Villa Nova. Maybe we took a tour bus to go port tasting.

I was impressed with the quality of the clues. SCI is very much a grade school subject, for starting in 9th grade you take some specific SCIence (or a combined Physics/Chemistry course). And USAIR was carefully clued as a carrier "name", not a particular airline company. But really, I don't remember British students talking about going to "UNI". Oxford, Cambridge, London, or some regional "university" like Durham or Newcastle, but UNI strikes me as very much a Canadian (or maybe Australian) term. Of course at Oxford, the students talk always about their college, and not their "UNIversity" because, after all, to them there is no other UNIversity worth discussing. They do occasionally mention "that other place", meaning Cambridge.

SharonAK 1:57 PM  

ALCS/NCLS is a keaload???!!!
I've no idea what either of them mean. No Kealoa to me.

okanaganer 2:19 PM  

Yeah just a great theme! However I have always had a problem with the Glass Half --- thing. To an optimist, a half empty glass is just as good. To a pessimist, a glass half full is still only HALF full. I'm missing something...

[Spelling Bee yd pg -2, missed these words.
Note: here is another ngram for 8 words makeable yesterday. The top two are disallowed, while the bottom 6 are accepted.]

JC66 2:20 PM  


In baseball, the winners of the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series play in the World Series.

tea73 2:21 PM  

I've seen plenty of HECHT's films, but the name did not ring a bell. Luckily I knew TREFOIL, it's not just a cookie, it's the Girl Scout logo. I'd have preferred a different ADLER, but a whizzed through the puzzle to my surprise and had fun on the way.

mathgent 2:52 PM  

My favorite posts this morning.

Z (7:04)
Gill I. (8:10)
bocamp (8:55)
Bree140 (10:17)
Georgia (10:32)
old timer (1:45)

Just sayin' 2:53 PM  

@GILL.I and @Newboy: For Iberian languages, GILL.I's hints are definitely helpful. But they're not absolute, as Charles DE GAULLE (French) and Leonardo DA VINCI (Italian) will attest.

Z 4:13 PM  

@Just sayin’ - Romance Language ≠ Iberian Language. Of course, this presumes that one knows Vasco da Gama is from that particular peninsula and not that other peninsula, so Gill I’s hint are pretty damn good as long as you know enough.

pmdm 4:39 PM  

kitshef: I like the word, but it's use is already applied to other contexts. And perhaps it sound too foreign. I like it better than kealoa, which also sounds a bit too foreign, but I would really prefer a term that doesn't have to do double duty. Perhaps something that can co-join the ideas of double and box.

Just sayin' 4:48 PM  

@Z: I did not mean to imply that Romance & Iberian languages are the same group. I only meant that without further information, a simple DA does not automatically (i.e. "always) mean Portuguese, nor is DE any more Spanish than French.

Smith 5:08 PM  

@Nancy 10:29

Congrats on another NYT puzzle! I always love doing your puzzles so I'm looking forward to the 23rd.

Smith 5:27 PM  

Well, I didn't love this puzzle. The pairs were totally obvious, and the rest was like a bunch of mini puzzles clinging to each other so they could claim to be a whole weekday puzzle!

Got it at the descriptions of a glass. On my phone the OPTIMIST or PESSIMIST revealer lit up every time I landed within an answer that pertained... I think it would have been a tad more fun *not* to have that hint, especially if you got it early on. I also think the paired clues didn't really need asterisks.

Never knew ADLER but, y'know, guessed. No idea about this ALCS thing either, but must have gotten from crosses because did not notice it!

I do get that it is quite a feat of construction, though.

@Z I prefer to get a real AHA! from the revealer. As someone else remarked, solving the theme is a meta aspect of the puzzle that I enjoy, so one like today's is no fun.

Re: Wordl, which someone mentioned: I think you will find it too easy. You can come up with 3 5 letter words that have no letters in common and include all the vowels and the most common letters. If you just use those 3 words you will have your answer by step 4. I guess that's if you like anagrams or find them easy. Back to SB for me.

Joe Dipinto 5:32 PM  

@mathgent 8:44 – you don't see it because "Bullets Over Broadway" isn't a play on words. It may be a tip-of-the-hat reference to the earlier film title. But Wikipedia suggests Woody Allen may have known it as the title of a skit on Sid Caesar's show.

Excellent puzzle, with Damon G's blog comments the cherry on top.

MOIRE is like Alicia Vikander in 2015: she was suddenly in a raft of movies that year after no one had ever heard of her, then she won an Academy Award. And then what happened to her? She does those Louis Vuitton (I think) ads. Though she did land Michael Fassbender for a husband. MOIRE could get lucky with SERGE or LISLE if this crossword gig doesn't work out.

Anoa Bob 5:46 PM  

I once heard an optimist described as someone who receives a bucket of horse dung as a gift and exclaims "How wonderful! There's a pony around here somewhere!" and a pessimist described as someone who receives a pony as a gift and exclaims "How dreadful! What will I do with all the horse dung?"

I thought it was a clever, well-crafted puzzle but that the only optimist vs pessimist pair that stuck the landing, so to speak, was the HALF FULL vs HALF EMPTY one. There we have the same situation with opposite interpretations depending on a person's prevailing attitude. The others though seemed to be just polar opposites. Does anyone, optimist or pessimist, go out on a sunny day and say it's raining or vice versa? Same thing for WAR or PEACE and FEAST or FAMINE. Not sure how "one who identifies with" one or the other of those relates to the OPTIMIST/PESSIMIST distinction.

Nancy 6:53 PM  

Thanks, @Smith!

@Anoa Bob -- Love the OPTIMIST/PESSIMIST pony joke!

And I think the dichotomies in the puzzle do work. The optimist expects sunSHINE on the day she will be flying to Europe. The pessimist fears RAIN. The ultra-pessimist worries about snow...or even a blizzard. These kinds of worries, or lack thereof, could be extended to the FEAST/FAMINE and even the WAR/PEACE dichotomies too.
It's a question of expectations.

albatross shell 1:01 AM  

So are you seeing the theme is 3/4 miss or 1/4 miss?

The problem with Nancy's theory is the half full or half empty is not a dichotomy. And now it doesn't fit. But look around the world. Are we at war or peace? Are we at feast or famine? Is it raining or shining? Depends on where you look and when.

MaharajaMack 2:23 AM  

I found the HECHT/TREFOIL cross unforgivable.

Anonymous 12:17 PM  

This is the cleverest puzzle I have seen in a very long time. Bravo!

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