Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hex/Quigley 15:35 (Laura) 


LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 14:05 (Laura) 


WaPo Untimed- on paper (Jim Q) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Flip on the Telly” – Jim Q’s writeup

**Clues referenced in this writeup reflect the clue numbers from the print version. The AcrossLite grid numbering is somewhat different.**

I suppose this one plays much easier for fans of the BBC/Netflix series Black Mirror. Luckily for me, I’m a fan. Bigly. It’s going to be hard to write this post and stay focused on the crossword since I’m so tempted to sing the praises of this show. Suffice it to say that if you’ve never watched an episode, and you’re a fan of dark irony, you’re missing out. Get on it.

And I’m sure CHARLIE BROOKER would approve of this clever grid.

WaPo Solution Grid (AcrossLite version) 8-5-18


Part I of Theme: Entries that Relate to the Series Itself

23a. [Actress who directed an episode of 125 Across called “Arkangel”] JODIE FOSTER. You can jump into Black Mirror at any point. Like The Twilight Zone, the episodes stand alone. But if you’re new to the series, Arkangel (a take on the perils of helicopter parenting) is a great starting point.

35a. [Screenwriter who created 125 Across] CHARLIE BROOKER. 

108a. [Genre for 125 Across] SCIENCE FICTION. This is a broad genre. Some episodes are more “Science Fiction-y” than others. You need not be a fan of stereotypical Sci-Fi to get into this show.

120a. [British TV series that’s illustrated literally in this puzzle] BLACK MIRROR. 

Part II of Theme: Entries that Illustrate the Title, Literally

57a. [Former prime minister Tony, when he spends money in Iran?] RIAL (B)LAIR. Insert a “B” into the black square in the middle, and it serves as the “Mirror” in this entry. RIAL/LAIR are mirror images of one another. Get it?

64a. [Part of a city where people talk with a Southern accent?] DRAW(L) WARD. 

70a. [Scent from a love god?] AMOR (A)ROMA. 

76a. [Actress Bow, when she swam in a shrinking body of water?] ARAL (C)LARA

82a. [Hip-hop performances inspired by a flash?] SPAR(K) RAPS

And, of course, the “Mirror” blocks spell out BLACK.

Loved this one. But again, I’m admittedly biased. I filled in Part I of the theme entries with no crossings whatsoever, and (as I’ve learned from that Kevin Bacon puzzle a few weeks back) I read the whole clue for 120a, so grokking the theme was a cinch.

Also liked the symmetry of the central themers, and the staircase formed by BLACK.

Add to the mix a great title, which references both the mirroring aspect of the puzzle and the British-ness of the series, and you have another tightly spun WaPo Sunday.


This is a beer bong. Avoid using it with Double IPAs.

13d. [Devices made for fast and heavy drinking] BEER BONGS. Love me my beer, but I’m sad to say that I missed out on the BEER BONG phase of my life. I think it’s because I commuted to college rather than living on campus. Sigh.

18d. [Needle holder] FIR TREE. I thought we all agreed that anything in a clue having to do with the holding of needles yields an answer of ETUI.

81d. [Beat reporter?] SNARE DRUM. Great clue.

112a. [See what I mean?] LIP READ. Fun use of the question mark here- very MISLEADing.


99a. [European capital that hosted the 2014 World Choir Games] RIGA. I had no clue this event existed, but it sounds amazing. Field trip anyone?

63d. [Former NBA star Allen Iverson’s nickname] THE ANSWER. Wow. That is quite the nickname. If I were on the team, I’m sure my moniker would be “The Problem.”

30d. [GOP center?] OLD. I’m super embarrassed to say this, but I had no idea what GOP stood for. Grand Old Party. Who knew? Everyone besides me, I’m guessing.

11d. [Informal term for an adviser of the 43rd president] BUSHIE. Awww. That’s cute. In retrospect.

9d. [Randomizer in “Mario Party” games] DIE. I depend on the WaPo to build my gaming knowledge base.

I’m interested to hear if this one didn’t sit well with non-viewers (a.k.a. future fans) of Black Mirror. While some of the Part II theme answers felt a tad forced (particularly ARAL (C)LARA), it was right in my wheelhouse. 4.5 stars from me and a SLOW CLAP.


Alison Ohringer and Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Laura’s review

Amy is heading out on vacation, and once again I get to blog a debut — which is another collaboration with Erik Agard. Erik has done more, single-handedly, to bring new constructors into the New York Times constructor roster than anyone else in the past couple of years (if there is indeed someone else who has collaborated lately with more new constructors, particularly women and people of color, I’d be interested to know). (Full disclosure: I am also one who has benefited from his guidance and collaboration.) But let’s celebrate Alison, who must be thrilled this evening to see her name there, in the app, and in that glossy magazine, above that grid. Let’s hope these debuts continue to inspire more new constructors, both in collaboration with mentors and those striking out on their own.

NYT - 8.5.18 - Solution

NYT – 8.5.18 – Solution

The puzzle! Let’s get there!

  • [24a: Caterer’s platter]: PARTY TRAY
  • [31a: Beat generation figure?]: HEART RATE
  • [48: Oral examination?]: TASTE TEST
  • [56a: Jazz singer who acted in the “Roots” miniseries]: CARMEN MCRAE
  • [69a: Like this puzzle’s circled letters vis-à-vis their Across letters]: LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
  • [86a: Talkative sort]: CHATTY CATHY
  • [95a: It might take only seven digits]: LOCAL CALL
  • [108a: Cause of a tossed joystick, maybe]: GAMER RAGE
  • [121a: Some rustproof rails]: BRASS BARS

What’s going on here? We have two-word phrases, with circled letters. It took a bit of reflection after I’d finished the gird to fully grok the theme gimmick, which is: take out the circled letter, and the leftover letters are anagrams of each other. The circled letters are lost in the shuffle, in that shuffling/anagramming each word tosses them out. They are “Ghosted,” per the title, because add them up and they spell PHANTOMS.

Fill-wise, I AGREE this is a clean grid with some fun, lively entries: SERENA SLAM, LAMAZE, GRANITA, SHTETL, hiiiiiilllllarious comedian APARNA Nancherla (follow her on the tweeters), BBC ARABIC, 80s pop group BANANARAMA covering the 1969 Shocking Blue hit “Venus.” I was into this BUT GOOD. Let’s see more debuts, more women constructors, and more of you veteran constructors taking the time and energy to mentor new folks. She’s got it, baby, she’s got it!

Bruce Haight’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Anabrands”—Jenni’s review

Anagrams. Why did it have to be anagrams?

I don’t actually mind anagrams, but my brain just would not kick into gear this morning and I couldn’t parse two of the theme answers. Thanks to Eric “Slicks” Agard for helping me out.

As you have probably surmised, the theme of this puzzle is anagrams, and as the title suggests they are anagrams of brand names.

  • 24a [Company covering the ninth of Salinger’s “Nine Stories”?] is LAST TALE INSURANCE. I kept trying to make this STATE FARM and yet could not see ALLSTATE in there. Duh.
  • 32a [Company providing stimulation before a round?] is GOLFER’S COFFEEFOLGERS.
  • 51a [Company for ones who love taking sides?] is I ADORE POTATOESORE-IDA. “Sides” refers to side dishes, not sides of an argument.
  • 66a [Company that bugs people?] is NOSY ELECTRONICSSONY. This one gave me the theme.
  • 82a [Company that moves a lot of cash?] is LARGE FLOWS BANKWELLS FARGO. And now, a musical interlude.

  • 101a [Company named for its product container?] is IN A CARTON MILKCARNATION.
  • 110a [Company dealing “frankly” with campaign issues?]  is MAYOR’S RACE WIENERS. Just leaving that riiiight there.

I liked this theme even though my brain froze up on me.

A few other things:

  • 1a [Muppet chimp __ Minella] is SAL. Not a Muppet I’m familiar with. Not a muppet I want to meet.
  • 33d [Silky-voiced crooners they are not]. They are RASPERS. The word feels like roll-your-own, but I immediately knew who they were talking about.
  • 53d [Software details] are APP CODE. Is this is a thing? Enlighten me.
  • For 96d [Cold outburst], I was looking for SLEET.  Nope. It’s SNEEZE.
  • 71d [Toast for Mrs. Robinson] is HERE’S TO YOU. Another musical interlude:


What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that OTIOSE means “serving no purpose.” Okay. Now I know that.


Brendan Emmett Quigley’s CRooked Crossword, “Themeless Challenger”—Laura’s review

CRooked - 8.5.18 - Solution

CRooked – 8.5.18 – Solution

Today’s CRooked is a Sunday-sized themeless from BEQ. It’s chock full o’ names, which usually I do quite well with, but today the coffee has yet to kick in (even though it’s brunchtime) and I was struggling. Five interesting things that I did not know off the top of my head and I had to look up after completing the puzzle:

  • [20a: Shot from downtown]: CORNER THREE. In basketball, a shot taken from the corner of the court, which is therefore more efficient than other places along (beyond?) the three-point line. Calling the zone of the court past the three-point line downtown is attributed to Brent Musberger. I am very glad to learn new sports terminology, and am not by any means complaining that I didn’t know this. Don’t @ me.
  • [39a: Verdi opera]: ERNANI. First staged in 1844, this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novella Hernani is about three rivals for a woman’s affection: two nobleman and that staple of 19th-century literature, a mysterious bandit. #TeamBandit
  • [94d: Large jibs]: GENOAS. These extend beyond, and often overlap, the mast on single- and twin-masted boats. A hybrid genoa-spinnaker is called a gennaker. I like the cut of that jib.
  • [51a: 2008-09 NL Cy Young winner]: LINCECUM. Pitcher Tim Lincecum started out this season with the Texas Rangers but was disabled due to a blister and released from his contract. Seems a bum deal that a blister knocks you off the team.
  • [113a: Basement washtub]: SLOP SINK. This seems rather an antiquated term for what I’ve always called a utility sink. Could be a regionalism? I’d’ve though it’d gone the way of sculleries and mangles.

[17d: “See ya”]: I’M GONE. I’ll leave you with [92d: Texas border town]: EL PASO.

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24 Responses to Sunday, August 5, 2018

  1. JohnH says:

    I’m sure the NYT setters are lovely people who have done ever so much for others, but seriously, the puzzle must be seen on its own merits, and I thought it was among the worst. I caught the theme early and kept wondering if there couldn’t be more. Surely the circled letters would spell something relevant. I came here for help on that, but looks like a big nothing.

    And the fill? I follow tennis avidly and don’t know what to make of a Serena slam. The Italian Renaissance began in Italy (duh), but the Northern Renaissance actually had quite an independent existence. I remember Iran Contra, not Irangate, although I know the idiot media loves affixing “gate” to anything. But I was alive then!

    But mostly I just hated what felt like a Monday level puzzle plus proper name obscurity, one worse than the other. Eryka? Whatever. Worst was the sector with BADI, BBC ARABIA, BANANA RAMA, and “Adkins,” making maybe the easiest puzzle ever a DNF. Ugh.

    • Paolo P. says:

      i can’t help but notice that this kind of “who cares” attitude has been brought up a lot w/r/t crossword fill. IMO it’s way easier to enjoy crosswords once you see entries outside your wheelhouse as opportunities to learn instead of things to be dismissive towards, especially when they’re crossed fairly and/or very inferrable (as is the case for BADU, SERENA SLAM, and the rest). if you don’t like the entry, fine, but at least look it up and get familiar with it so you’ll be ready if it comes up in the future. bc right now, griping about Erykah Badu’s inclusion while misspelling both her first and last names is not a good look

    • Sarah says:

      BANANARAMA and ADELE are both pretty fair. If you’re missing one letter of BANANARAMA, you should be able to deduce what letter that is. ADELE is famous enough that you should know who she is, and if you don’t, that’s your problem.

      BBC ARABIC on the other hand, is completely unfair, with no reasonable way to deduce the first letter (NBC/NADU, ABC/AADU…)

      Adding “U.K.” to the clue is an easy fix. Shoddy editing, I would say, this is one of the things you have to watch out for as an editor when you use TV channels that only differ by a letter, and test solvers definitely should have caught this, given BADU has only appeared ~60 times in any crossword ever.

      • Ethan says:

        Although as an Arabic teacher I look at BBC Arabic quite often, I actually wasn’t thrilled about that entry, which struck me as a bit green paint-y. Is BBC URDU fair game now? BBC PASHTO? What about DW ARABIC, RT ARABIC, CNN ARABIC, etc.?

    • MattG. says:

      I won’t echo Paolo’s response, though I should, because it’s that apt, but I’ll point out that Laura addresses the circled letters you gripe about in her review. Not only that, but they don’t need to be shuffled out of clue order to “spell something relevant.” So…

    • AV says:

      JohnH: DNF because you did not get BADU and BBCARABIC, which I understand. Ugh because? You DNF? If yes, then I understand that too.

      If we put those issues aside, this is a very clean theme and well executed .. anagrams, non-participating circled ghost letters indicated beautifully with an in-the-language phrase (LOST IN THE SHUFFLE), circled letters spelling PHANTOMS, and the title, which gives you another hint to what’s going on.

      I for one loved the BBCARABIC/BANANARAMA, SERENASLAM/ARTCENTER, LIMEJUICE, SYLLABLES, THENERVE .. those long non-thematic downs. Gorgeous construction.

      Another stalwart who has done much for new entrants to the construction zone is Jeff Chen.

      • Jim Peredo says:

        ^^^^^^^ This. Yes.

        Loooved this puzzle! LOST IN THE SHUFFLE makes for a brilliant conceit, and the fill is stellar. BBC ARABIC seemed perfectly fair to me once I realized AL JAZEERA (which fit) wasn’t right. And an avid follower of tennis should know what a SERENA SLAM is. What a fabulous bit of fill.

        And as one who was brought on by Jeff Chen, I second his outstanding mentor status.

      • Sarah says:

        Personally, I don’t see a strong connection between the revealer, the theme answers and the title/PHANTOMS.

    • JohnH says:

      I’m sorry you all feel that I’m closed off to learning. I resent and reject that.

      I’m constantly reading, and I drifted into a long career in textbook editing because it allowed me to get a hold of all those things I never got around to as a student and to learn from people smarter than I am, my authors. I go to maybe 40 galleries and museums a week (where art in puzzles mostly means ARP, although VERMEER was a gimme for me Saturday) and listen to a music of all sorts (jazz, classical, rock, but not ENYA and rap). I’m an urban explorer, including neighborhoods, architecture, history, and food (but not the chains out there in the heartland). As I say, I definitely follow tennis in the Times every day (I’m from a tennis family), but have never heard of a Serena slam. (Has her winning a title become an achievement for others as well? I’ve also rarely heard “slam” used along as opposed to a particular tournament among the big four or the goal rarely met these days of winning all four in succession.)

      Indeed, I’d say that Times crosswords mean very much to keep people within their comfort zone, just not mine. That’s why there’s so much Harry Potter and the Simpsons. It’s why literature means at best Isaac Asimov (god help us) or why Amy complains on the rare occasion when puzzles (in a New York paper) refer to New York City.

      Am I sorry I haven’t learned more? Definitely. Will I go to my death sorry I haven’t watched more TV or another “Star Wars” sequel? Afraid not. Will I continue to resent it when learning in a puzzle means Googling and not crossings? Definitely.

      • GLR says:

        40 galleries and museums a week? That sounds like speed dating – “time’s up, please move on to the next gallery.” I’m sure I don’t make it to 40 galleries and museums in a year (more like once a month) – but when I do, it’s likely a 3-4 hour visit. Where do you squeeze in eating, sleeping and reading about tennis in the Times?

        On the tennis front, I’m at best a “casual” fan – read a bit or watch a bit of the major tournaments – but I’ve heard of the Serena Slam. A Google search of the NYT’s web site generates 31 hits (excluding one related to today’s puzzle), dating back to 2003, and as recent as May of this year.

      • AMYF says:

        You’re coming off as extremely elitist to me.

        Going to 40 (!!!) galleries and museums every week (!!!) is nice and all, if that’s your thing (it’s not particularly my thing), but I don’t know why it should at all make you any more particularly informed than others. Especially when you double down on your elitism by lamenting that art fill only gets as deep as “ARP” or the occasional “VERMEER”. I might not be able to tell an ARP from a VERMEER (though, in this case, I probably could) but I can fill either of those names (plus a great many others). And I know nothing about art.

        Likewise, many with a passing interest in sports (especially tennis) would probably be familiar with a Serena Slam, as 20million+ Google hits, including a Wiktionary entry and a subsection of her Wikipedia entry indicate. Maybe you’re not that into tennis, after all … or maybe just not women’s tennis.

        You’re into all types of music … except for the “low-class” ones (let me guess, you’re also not into country?). You like all types of food (but, of course, not the “heartland chains” … heaven forbid a gourmet get caught at an Outback!).

        The deepest literature is Harry Potter or The Simpsons or (god help us) Isaac Asimov! Where’s the crossword where all entries are pulled from Finnegan’s Wake?!?!

        Look, a crossword is a word game that essentially only tests familiarity with things (and not deep knowledge), including a great many things that a lot of people will be familiar with. Because I can recognize most cluings for Al HIRT does not mean I’ve ever listened to him or make me any more intelligent just for recognizing him. Other than, maybe, the endorphin hit for recognizing something particularly niche (again, obscurity does not necessarily make something “intellectual” or “high-brow”).

        In fact, probably the most “intellectual” part of solving crosswords is parsing the punny wordplay clues and being able to deduce what would be reasonable fill for something that you aren’t familiar with. That BBCARABIC / BADU cross is maybe a bit tenuous, but the only reasonable options are B or N or maybe C (with B, for lots of reasons, being probably by far the best fit).

        Maybe you ought to expose yourself a bit more to the zeitgeist of current culture than expecting culture and media (and puzzles) conform to your expectations.

  2. AV says:

    JohnH: DNF because you did not get BADU and BBCARABIC, which I understand. Ugh because? You DNF? If yes, then I understand that too.

    If we put those issues aside, this is a clean theme, well executed .. anagrams, non-participating circled ghost letters indicated beautifully with an in-the-language phrase (LOST IN THE SHUFFLE), circled letters spelling PHANTOMS, and the title, which gives you another hint to what’s going on.

    I for one loved the BBCARABIC/BANANARAMA, SERENASLAM/ARTCENTER, LIMEJUICE, SYLLABLES, THENERVE .. those long non-thematic downs. Gorgeous construction.

    Another stalwart who has done much for new entrants to the construction zone is Jeff Chen.

  3. Lise says:

    I thought the NYT was delightful. Full of lively answers, and even the short fill is holding up good stuff. I’m checking out APARNA Nancherla now. I hope her crossword-friendly name reappears.

    And as for the above DNF comment: Don’t be afraid to learn new things/names. Culture moves on. If we stagnate, we’ll be LOST IN THE SHUFFLE. At my rapidly-approaching-Medicare age, I am thrilled to be able to recall a name I learned in a puzzle. Or anywhere else.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Ditto. I’ve stretched myself to get too many 50 year old Righteous Bros. “hits” & arias in contralto to not have earned some BANANARAMA.

  4. Gareth says:

    Nancy Salomon? Anyone remember her?

    • Gareth says:

      Zhouqin Burnikel and Vic Fleming also deserve shout-outs in that regard.

    • AV says:

      Yes, this is embarrassing. Nancy probably launched the most constructor bylines in this world! This was pre-social-media so we forget.

  5. Norm says:

    I fail to see what the big deal was about solving the WaPo on paper rather than in AcrossLite. I don’t have a white ink pen, so I had to mentally fill in the “mirror” squares anyway. What? The missing clue numbers are supposed to be special? BFD. And a puzzle based on trivia about a show I’ve never watched and never will watch, with a single gimmick in the middle, was not entertaining. I’ll say this for it: at least it didn’t have a stupid BADU/BBC cross.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Yeah, I appreciate Evan stopping by to alert us to the unusual format, but I don’t think I would have noticed anything amiss about today’s WaPo (which I loved, by the way) without the warning. Missing clue numbers are not a big deal and I’m used to seeing “-” in AcrossLite to denote the absence of a clue.

      Thought the NYT was excellent as well. In general, for Sunday-size puzzles I prefer themes like this one where the theme helps you quickly fill in a lot of the letters. A 21×21 is just too much puzzle sometimes, and a breezy theme is appreciated. Save the hard stuff for the 15x15s.

  6. PJ Ward says:

    WaPo – I haven’t seen the show but the grid fell pretty easily once I worked my way down to the revealer. I’ll probably give it a try. I liked the Bill Withers crossing at 21a/15 d.

  7. pannonica says:

    NYT: 48a [Oral examination?] TASTE TEST; 119a [Stage in getting a Ph.D] ORALS.


  8. cyberdiva says:

    Lise, I loved your “At my rapidly-approaching-Medicare age, I am thrilled to be able to recall a name I learned in a puzzle. Or anywhere else.”

    I agree with those who objected to the BADU/BBCARABIC crossing. However, one of the advantages/disadvantages of doing the puzzles on paper is that I was able to feel pleased with myself for finishing in what for me was a decent time even though I had AADU/ABCARABIC ?.

  9. ahimsa says:

    Very much enjoyed all three Sunday puzzles that I did – NYT, LAT and WaPo!

    I balked a bit at DMARK in the WaPo but I’m sure it was hard to get that center section to work. I don’t watch the show but still quite enjoyed the puzzle.

    My brain was also quite slow to untangle the anagrams in LAT but I just solved first and figured them out after. So I also enjoyed it.

    And NYT was surprisingly easy for me for some reason. BADU was a gimme (love many of her songs and also her work on Q.U.E.E.N with Janelle Monae)

    I hope this does not seem too pedantic – Re: Lise’s comment about Medicare age, recipients can actually be any age. Many people under 65 who have a disability may qualify for Medicare (raises hand).

    Sadly, the news media does not do a very good job covering issues related to disabilities. This includes news articles about Medicare so it’s not surprising that most people don’t know this fact.

    Thanks for listening. :-) Posting a day later means few folks will read this but… who knows?

Comments are closed.