Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hex/Quigley 16:58(Laura) 


LAT 9:38 (Jenni) 


NYT 10:45 (Amy) 


WaPo 15:46 (Jim Q) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Split Ends” – Jim Q’s writeup

Two roads diverged in a crossword grid… but no worries. You can travel both.

WaPo crossword solution * 9 30 18 * “Split Ends” * Birnholz

THEME: Split Ends. Two different phrases that begin by sharing a synonym for the word “split” end by taking two different diagonal paths (the visual in the solution grid is a way better explanation).

  • 31A [Stealth action video game franchise bearing Tom Clancy’s name / Breakaway organization] SPLINTER CELL / SPLINTER GROUP. Three birds with one stone here… two theme answers AND the obligatory video game entry!
  • 36A [Give up / Like many positions for students] PART WITH / PART TIME.
  • 100A [1985 hit by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin about a breakup / 1983 hit by Journey about a breakup, familiarly] SEPARATE LIVES / SEPARATE WAYS.
  • 105A [Elevator at a construction site / Rare pitch that’s similar in grip to a splitter] FORK LIFT / FORK BALL
  • 45D [Lines on which you will find the ends of this puzzle’s theme entries] DIAGONALS. 

On the outset, it may seem as though there’s not a helluva lot of theme material here (after all, Evan’s grid are often jam-packed with theme answers. I think last week’s had something like 103 of them in there…), but there’s actually quite a bit of real estate occupied by the theme in this grid. I’ve tried once- and very unsuccessfully- to build a 21x grid where theme answers didn’t follow a traditional vertical/horizontal path. It’s tough. It’s another layer of constraint that the solver may not fully appreciate (note the nifty top/bottom symmetry used to accommodate the answers). And Evan (as usual) pulls this off deftly with minimal crud in the grid.

Also, I really like when a theme helps me to figure out tough fill. Clues seemed a bit harder than usual, but after sussing out the conceit, it provided helpful little nuggets to determine fill like CELESTA, DEDALUS, EMINENCE, and ENVELOPS (just to name a few spots where I stumbled).


  • 76A [Vintage auto horns] KLAXONS. Never heard of these. Happy to

    Klaxon… one of these thingies more or less.

    add to vocabulary. They’re those cartoony looking horns that would certainly be reason for a failed inspection today.

  • 116A [“I should hit the hay”] IT’S LATE. Man, did this one give me trouble. Especially with the [Juvenile sort] crossing. I had I’M TIRED / TOT.  Then I put in IT’S LATE, but took it out in favor of CAD. Back and forth.
  • 13D [Final form for the tree in “The Giving Tree”] STUMP. Spoiler Alert! I’m embarrassed to say I never read this book. So I assumed it grew into something like a majestic MAPLE. Nope. Sounds like a sad ending.
  • 98A [Thrones, so to speak] TOILETS. Fun clue. I’d love to see an adaptation of HBO’s Game of Thrones with this version of a throne in mind.
  • 71A [Stackable Livestock animals, in “The Far Side”] COWS. I had EWES for a split second. More importantly, I’m reminded of how much I miss “The Far Side.”


Thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle. Right amount of toughness with a solid and unique concept. 4.5 stars from me.

P.S. A music video so bad that it’s great:

Natan Last’s New York Times crossword, “Sleep On It”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 30 18, “Sleep On It”

The theme entries are phrases starting with standard mattress sizes, with a {PEA} rebus square below each “mattress” and the name of a princess above it. 14d. [Item lain upon four times in this puzzle] clues MATTRESS, 82d. [Any of the four people disturbed in this puzzle] clues PRINCESS, and the final revealer is 123a. [Item that disturbs sleep four times in this puzzle], PEA. So we’ve got Disney princess BELLE atop a QUEEN (OF MEAN) bed atop a {PEA}. Princess/General LEIA lies on the FULL (BODIED) mattress with its {PEA}. XENA the Warrior Princess lies on the TWIN (SISTER) and {PEA}. And last, British royal Princess ANNE is on a KING (SOLOMON) bed atop a {PEA}. The fairy tale “The Princess and Pea” is what’s at the heart of the theme.

“Charming,” a poem by Laura Passin. Available at

That fairy tale was ruined for me this week, when I read a poem by Laura Passin called “Charming,” originally published last year in a publication called The Fem. I’m still, as the young folks say, shook. I doubt that Natan had seen this poem prior to writing his puzzle—he may well have made the puzzle before the poem was ever published. It’s a neat theme, executed elegantly, but the fairy tale that inspired it is now creeping me out.

Grid’s got some lovely fill, though. ROLL WITH IT, SET THE TONE, FAIR SHAKE, HIT COUNTER, IN REAL TIME, MOB TIES, TALLBOYS, B-SCHOOL, SNAKE OIL, GREEN{PEA}CE, ASIAN {PEA}RS, and RAIN GOD are all excellent entries. They help be forget BAR-B-Q, which I happen to hate. If you can’t accept BBQ, then just spell out barbecue, for crying out loud.

Did not know: 11d. [1980s cartoon robot], VOLTRON. Now, Voltorb, the round pink electrified Pokémon, sure. But not VOLTRON.

Likely the toughest crossing trio: 113a. [Western gas brand], TESORO meets 84d. [Where Karl Benz debuted the world’s first auto], MANNHEIM meets 96d. [Discharged matter], EGESTA. Oof. None of that is appealing.

59d. [Georgia, in the art world] clues O’KEEFFE, and I just encountered a new-to-me O’Keeffe painting at the Art Institute of Chicago this week. She didn’t spend much time up amid the greenery of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, but she was there long enough to paint this:

“Green Mountains, Canada,” by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1932 (Art Institute of Chicago)

4.5 stars from me.

Peter Koetters’s LA Times crossword, “Power Play” – Jenni’s write-up

I had no idea what the theme was until I filled in the revealer.

  • 23a [*Electric vehicle need] is a CHARGING STATION.
  • 16d [*Pressurized undersea compartment] is a DIVING BELL.
  • 39a [*Having a blowout sale] is SLASHING PRICES. So…gerunds?
  • 59a [*Fish story theme] is HOOKING THE BIG ONE. Do fisherpeople say that?
  • 74d [*Camping out, say] is ROUGHING IT.
  • 81a [*Like a man resisting the urge to argue] is HOLDING HIS TONGUE. I guess. “Hold your tongue” is certainly in the language. This construction feels clunky.
  • 96a [*”Dead Poets Society” setting] is BOARDING SCHOOL.

And, finally, the revealer: 117a [Temporarily disqualified due to an infraction that begins any of seven answers to the starred clues] is IN THE PENALTY BOX. So CHARGING, DIVING, SLASHING, HOOKING, ROUGHING, HOLDING, and BOARDING are all infractions in ice hockey. This is not a sport I follow, so my consternation is no surprise.

As I noted, one or two of the theme answers feel roll-your-ownish to me, and since I’m not a hockey fan (and it’s not hockey season – is it?) the whole thing left me, well, cold.

A few other things:

  • 7d [DJIA part: Abbr.] is AVG. I had to look it up – DJIA is the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This puzzle did not make me feel smarter.
  • 9d [Third face of Eve?] is SETH. This is a clue trying way too hard to be cute.
  • 36d [Disaster site procedures] are TRIAGES. Except they’re not. I have never heard that used as a plural. Just – no.
  • 45d [Check, in a way] was the last answer I filled in, because READD made no sense at all. I finally realized it means “add again.” It made no sense to me because this is not a word that is widely used. I’d say it’s not a word but I’m sure it’s in some dictionary somewhere.
  • 86d [Bit of roller derby protection] is an ELBOW PAD. Why invoke roller derby? Don’t hockey players wear ELBOW PADs?

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Danny AINGE is an NBA exec. I knew he was a player.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s CRooked Crossword, “Where Is It?”—Laura’s review

CRooked - 9.30.18 - Solution

CRooked – 9.30.18 – Solution

Where could it be? It could be short review, since I’m under the weather.

  • [23a: Where this is?]: BEFORE LONG. Because this entry is before [25a: Long]: YEARN.
  • [38a: Where this is?]: FOLLOWING SUIT. This entry follows [35a: Suit]: SPADES.
  • [59a: Where this is?]: RIGHT OF ENTRY. This entry is to the right of [58a: Entry]: DOOR
  • [64a: Where this is?]: LEFT OF CENTER. This entry is to the left of [69a: Center]: CORE
  • [86a: Where this is?]: NEXT TO NOTHING. This entry is indeed next to [90a: Nothing]: NAUGHT
  • [106a: Where this is?]: AFTER SHAVE. This entry is after [104a: Shave]: SLICE


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17 Responses to Sunday, September 30, 2018

  1. Thanks, Jim.

    On having relatively few theme squares: Diagonals can be the worst. If WITH in the northeast corner were just a normal Down answer, it would contribute letters to five answers (the four crossing Across answers and the single Down answer WITH). As a diagonal, though, it contributes letters to eight answers (four Across and four Down), so it puts heavy constraints in the grid even without taking up much physical space.

    • john farmer says:

      Terrific puzzle, Evan. Congrats.

      You and Jim are exactly right about diagonals. Each square in a diagonal word has to work not for 2 answers, but for 3. It adds a new dimension to constructing.

      The number of answers crossing theme words may be a good way to think about theme density. It’s about more than just a simple count of theme squares. For example, the WaPo xword uses 67 theme letters but only 39 of 144 answers do not cross a theme answer (and only 16 answers of 4 letters or more). In contrast, the NYT uses 106 theme letter squares but 56 of 142 answers do not cross a theme answer (32 answers of 4 letters or more). The diagonals may appear to be a thinner theme but they create a big challenge for filling the grid.

      The numbers above aren’t everything, of course. The NYT has 4 instances of trip-stacked theme answer Across, each crossed by a theme answer Down. That’s a level of density you don’t get to see very often. Another terrific puzzle. Kudos to Natan for that.

      • Alan D. says:

        I’ve been working on a 21x puzzle where the theme is all about diagonals. Suffice to say, 6 months later I’m still trying fill the damn thing!

    • David Steere says:

      Another brilliant puzzle, Evan. Thanks. Delightful in both directions.

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    So is MANNHEIM in the NYT Sunday going to become a thing now, like Hitchcock cameos? The Emmy-winning actress may be feeling a little neglected so far.

  3. Tim in NYC says:

    Wow, that is one dark poem.

    There’s an excellent podcast – “Myths and Legends” by Jason Weiser – that gives the original versions of many tales, notably ones that have been sugar-coated by Disney. Weiser starts out some of his episodes warning parents of young children not to let their children listen to the show.

  4. JohnH says:

    NYT had a ton I neither knew nor cared about, such as Simba’s father and a 1980s cartoon robot. Some of this occurred as well in crossings as well, where I felt darned lucky to come up with an entry, like SNOGS with TECORO.

    Worse for me, it extended to theme entries, so I never did get the point, not associating (say) BELLE or XENA with “princess.” So no fun at all for me. Beyond hated it. At least I learned a rain god.

    • Finn says:

      The name of the show XENA was on was literally “XENA: Warrior Princess,” so it’s a little hard to claim that she has anything but a strong association with her princessness.

  5. cc says:

    Wow. Feeling my age re VOLTRON! That show was as big as Transformers in the 80s for a time, with a cartoon series to boot. The gimmick was humans piloting transforming animal/robot ships that combined into a giant robot when needed. I’ve used VOLTRON as shorthand for putting together a super team for something! Ironically, the Netflix reboot has been on longer than the original.

  6. David L says:

    I had a lot of trouble with the ASIAN[PEA]RS/S[PEA]K crossing. I put in POLISCI at 39D (I don’t care what Google says, Poly Sci is a ridiculous abbr for political science), and then tried POI for the vegetarian hot dog, because who knows what they put in any kind of hot dog, vegetarian or otherwise. Then SIT for the dog command, naturally, although it could have been SIC, and on top of that I’ve never heard of SKIPBO. Sorted it out eventually, after guessing ASIANPEARS, which I have likewise never heard of.

    I don’t understand OZONE for ‘air supply.’ I know ozone is a component of the atmosphere, of course, but the clue still doesn’t make any sense to me.

    The WaPo was great. Took me a while to see what was going, but very impressed when I did.

  7. Norm says:

    For some reason, I got my foothold for the WaPo in the far east, and the very last word I filled in was … [wait for it] … DIAGONALS, so I was very much “what’s the point” as I solved and then “Oh, cool puzzle” at the end when the penny finally dropped. Amazing piece of work, Evan.

  8. Scott says:

    I got all the PEAs but never realized that the mattresses and princesses were above, despite the references to them. Glad I came here to find out!

  9. Orange is the New Idiotic says:

    Why do Sunday puzzles feel like work?

  10. Lise says:

    Great puzzle day! The empty WaPo grid really caught my attention. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grid quite like that one: unique, and filled with the promise of an interesting theme.

    The NYT and WaPo were both very satisfying solves. (Haven’t yet done the LAT). Both felt fresh, kept me engaged, enjoying the search for the next theme entry and appreciating the fill. I’m not a big fan of RAIN GODs at the moment though…

    The range of princesses was interesting, from the real to the fictional, books, TV, and movies. Both puzzles were real feats of construction. Fantastic!

    I liked Jim’s use of color in his WaPo review, too.

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