Sunday, December 23, 2018

Hex/Quigley untimed (Vic) 


LAT 7:20 (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Derek) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “White Christmas” – Jim Q’s writeup

***CLICK HERE to get the PDF of this week’s WaPo! Highly recommended over AcrossLite!*** 

If you solve in AcrossLite and need to see Mr. Happy Pencil in order to feel complete, you’re no doubt feeling some anxiety right now. Glad I completed this wonderful puzzle on paper.

WaPo crossword solution * 12 23 18 * “White Christmas” * Birnholz


THEME ANSWERS: Hmmmm… tough to qualify what counts as a theme answer. So let’s go with the entries that help you to figure out the theme.

  • 85A [Hunting item associated with one of this puzzle’s special letters] TREASURE MAP. 
  • 6D [Fast food symbol associated with one of this puzzle’s special letters] GOLDEN ARCHES. 
  • 14D [Literary character associated with one of this puzzle’s special letters] HESTER PRYNNE. 
  • 100A [Reporter associated with one of this puzzle’s special letters] CLARK KENT.
  • 56A [Like the squares that comprise this puzzle’s special letters] BLANK. 

What’s going on here? Let’s see… A TREASURE MAP is closely associated with X. GOLDEN ARCHES = M. HESTER PRYNNE = A. And CLARK KENT = S. Clearly, this puzzle has something to do with X-MAS.

I was tipped off that this week’s WaPo was considered difficult, and I was wondering why as I flew through the entire middle of the puzzle (making one big mistake, which I’ll get to in a bit). However, I was left with four very unsolved corners and the seemingly sporadically placed clue [White Christmas piece, literally].

Some gimmes in those corners just didn’t fit: [“You’ve got mail” co.] is AOL without a doubt. [Gomer on an old sitcom] is certainly PYLE. EURO, RAG, and NIA were all soft-balls (side note: NIA is more common a name than I thought last week. Ms. Vardalos is notably absent from this clue. My bad.). This is likely to frustrate a number of solvers, but knowing and trusting that Evan doesn’t construct anything haphazardly is probably the best hint to cracking those corners. That’s when I wrote X S A and M at the top of the paper and read the revealer-ish clue about some squares being BLA?K.

And I filled in BLACK instead of BLANK.

My initial very-wrong yet somehow very-right solution.

Ironically, my error helped me out as I tentatively blacked out an X in the NW corner. Bingo. Clues that read [White Christmas piece, literally] were blacked out entirely. And it was smooth sailing from there. Obviously, blacking out boxes completely contradicts the idea of WHITE CHRISTMAS, so that ate at me until I re-filled the grid in AcrossLite for a screenshot and checked my letters. Turns out, SEDACS are not a thing offered by Dollar. They do offer SEDANS though. Duh.

While the concept seems easy to pick up on in retrospect, this solve offered of the most satisfying AHA moments of the year- a perfect way to (almost) close out 2018. Chock-full of fun fill too.



  • 25A [Italian region located in East India] ASTI. As in the letters A, S, T, and I can be found in “East India.” This answer being in a corner made it quite tough!
  • 78A [Tough squeeze] BEAR HUG. I had NEAR HIT at first, which kinda makes sense…
  • 35D [Org. for those with Dream jobs] WNBA. I’m not familiar with the team, but it’s a fun clue.
  • 114A [Turner on a stereo] DIAL. I erased my progress in that area so that I could put in TINA, which I was sure had to be the answer.
  • 42A [Reason to resign] SCANDAL. Maybe this clue needs an update! That was a reason to resign in days of YORE!
  • 21A [National defense concern?] ERROR. I had ARMOR. And I’m just understanding the clue/answer as I’m typing this: The Washington Nationals are concerned about making ERRORs on the field. Good one!
  • 93A [Person from Athens, Moscow or Naples, say] AMERICAN. They may sound foreign… but they’re all places in the U.S. of A.

Video games were snubbed this week.

5 stars from me. This was a great gift. Thanks, Evan! And Merry X-MAS to all who celebrate!

David Alfred Bywater’s New York Times crossword, “Labor Contract(Ion)s”—Derek’s write-up

NYT 12/23/2018

Derek here, subbing for Amy on the Sunday NYT. I was recently acquainted with Mr. Bywaters’ website (found here) several weeks ago. There was a thread I was reading somewhere listing which puzzles solvers tackled on a daily basis (I think it was the Fill Me In podcast, now that I think of it!), and Bywaters was on the list. I also remember this byline at a handout or two at the ACPT. I don’t believe I have ever met this person, and I don’t know if this is a pseudonym, but I don’t think so. This appears to be their second NYT published puzzle, and although there are only six themers (seven with the revealer), it all works together. The title hints strongly at what is going on; something involving the letters ION:

  • 24A [How polka bands get their start?] WITH ONE ACCORDION
  • 32A [Pontiff’s gold treasure?] PAPAL BULLION
  • 53A [Query about the Freedom Caucus or Berniecrats?] IS THAT A FACTION?
  • 90A [Nickname for a hard-to-please girl?] MISS IMPOSSIBLE – This is my favorite one
  • 109A [Data maintained by competitive dentists?] FILLING STATS
  • 119A [Speakers’ searches for just the right words?] RHETORICAL QUESTS
  • 70A [Like some factories … or, in a different sense, like 90-, 109- and 119-Across (but not 24-, 32- and 53-Across] UNIONIZED

So you could say that the latter three theme entries had their IONs stolen by the first three, but I think the sense here is showing are some things are UN-ION and some are non-UN-ION, which is like a weird double negative! My time was a little long on this one, but I solved on an iPad, and I need to clip my fingernails. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! 4.5 stars for this one.

A few more things:

  • 14A [What leads many people to say “Let’s face it”?] MECCA – Cute clue; one of the best clues in the grid.
  • 48A [Star bursts] NOVAE – I never know if this ends in S or E. Because of where this is, S is not an option.
  • 69A [Figure in Jewish folklore] GOLEM – I only know this from puzzles. Again, I live in Indiana.
  • 87A [Pas sans] AVEC – Some slightly tougher French that is not just numbers or days of the week. This is “not without” in French, and AVEC means “with”, of course.
  • 102A [Offshore sight, maybe] OIL RIG – Will we ever get away from dependency on oil and other unrenewable energy sources? Perhaps, once they figure out how to send you a utility bill for solar and wind power!
  • 126A [Buckwheat cereal] KASHA – I had KASHI in here. Check your crossings, Derek!
  • 132A [“x” in 5x = x^2 ÷ 2] TEN – Math is hard! Just kidding; I love math. I am an accountant!
  • 4D [Philosophical argument for belief in God] PASCAL’S WAGER – I have never heard this term before, and this is a NYT debut entry. Fascinating topic, which is discussed here.
  • 26D [Dead reckoning?] OBIT PAGE – I had OBITUARY in here at first. Tricky!
  • 58D [Align] TRUE UP – This is good. This is how people talk here in Indiana! Great casual phrase.
  • 65D [Lansing-to-Flint dir.] ENE – I hate these directional clues. Sometimes I think they can be ambiguous. Also, this clue screams “Which way to bad drinking water?”
  • 74D [BBQ side] SLAW – I harped about this on a Saturday puzzle. I had cole slaw recently at KFC! It is NOT just a BBQ side. Maybe it is just me. Also, I am getting hungry, and I think I have some leftovers in the fridge …
  • 82D [ __-Dixie (grocery chain)] WINN – I think I have set foot in one of these before on a trip, as they are all over the south. Are these even in the New York area? I think this grocery was actually in a movie title a few years back, so that helped!
  • 91D [Bee, e.g.] SAMANTHA – Another great clue. I don’t watch her show much, as I can never remember when it is, and I think it is past my bedtime anyway! But I watch her clips a lot on YouTube. She is quite funny.

I will stop there. Thanks for letting me fill in on a Sunday!

C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “Quick Visit” – Jenni’s write-up

This is not my favorite kind of theme. Each theme answer has a word hidden in the middle. No wordplay, just straight clues for straight answers.

  • 16d [*Former Chilean dictator] is AUGUSTO PINOCHET
  • 23a [*Chances that slipped away] are LOST OPPORTUNITIES.
  • 45d [*Bending over backward, say] is ANXIOUS TO PLEASE.
  • 62a [*True view] is HONEST OPINION.
  • 70a [*Often the best choice, in retrospect] is FIRST OPTION. This one feels awkward and a bit roll-your-own.
  • 82a [*Swindlers] are FAST OPERATORS.
  • 124a [*Ristorante appetizers] are ANTIPASTO PLATTERS.

And we have a revealer at 103d: [Visit briefly … and a hint to the answers to starred clues], STOP IN. It’s solid theme (with the exception of 70a) and it works fine. It’s not all that interesting.

A few other things:

  • 6d [Sherpa, usually] is NEPALI. Usually? Are there Sherpas that are not from Nepal?
  • 13d [Earthshaking event] is SEISM. The geologist in the household says “It’s only common in crossword puzzles because it has the right letters. We call them earthquakes.”
  • I guess one dictator per puzzle is the limit, and since PINOCHET shows up, TITO is clued as 38d [Jackson 5 member].
  • 85d. “On the Bus With Rosa Parks” poet Dove is RITA. I’m so glad to see her recognized! Rita DOVE is one of my favorite poets. She was the youngest person and the first African American named as Poet Laureate of the US. Check out the poem referenced in the clue, and then read more of her work. You will not regret it.
  • Paging Steve Manion: is SIDE POT a term people actually use?

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that bowling pins are made of MAPLE, that the movie “Scarface” is set in MIAMI, and that OTTER POPs are fruit-flavored.

Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Coming and Going”—Judge Vic’s review.

Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon’s CRooked crossword, “Coming and Going” solution 12-23-18

“Hello!” begins the email note with which this installment of the CRooked was delivered. “We regret to inform you that this puzzles-by-email service is winding down at year’s end. You can continue to find the puzzles in print in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. You should have already received a separate email with information about your subscription status and next steps. Please let us know if you have not received any such notice, and we’ll follow up. One more puzzle next week, after this one.”

Did I mention that this was captioned “Service Announcement”? I am passing it along as a–uh, service. It continues: “For questions or comments after the start of 2019, please write to” Now, you know as much as I do.

I’m reviewing this crossword from the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Atlanta, GA. Let’s see if the ambiance makes any difference. Because of the circumstances, I was unable to time myself accurately, solving this one in fits and starts, as I participated in family-related events. Let’s just say it was about 20 minutes.

The theme I got rather quickly, as FIFA and URAL let me know that DRANK DECAF’s defense to my claim of green-paint status was that it was a wrong answer. FACED DECAF put me on notice that I was looking for 12 pairs of 5-letter words, punnily clued so as to highlight that in each instance, each word was the other word spelled backwards. Does that make sense?  Plus, DRANK DECAF was not at all humorous, vis-a-vis the clue. Ergo:

  • 23a Had to go with joltless java? FACED DECAF–Once I got this, I liked the clue.
  • 25a Dug out some jeans? MINED DENIM–Clever!
  • 39a Assets in regattas? SLEEK KEELS–An extra layer of analysis was needed to get this one, but that’s fine.
  • 57a Hoosier hoops wrap-up? PACER RECAP–This one is almost too real to be funny. I Googled for it, but not for long.
  • 78a Why socks and such shouldn’t be sniffed?KNITS STINK–I laughed at this one.
  • 93a Marginalia in “Foxfire”? SETON NOTES–Anya Seton is the author of a book titled Foxfire. I had not known that before. But there are also a lot of other Firefoxes in pop culture.
  • 112a King of beers? REGAL LAGER–Nice clue, this!
  • 114a Sketches grassy land? DRAWS SWARD–I wonder why SWARD doesn’t appear in more crosswords. Could it be the 4-consonant, 1-vowel thing?
  • 3d Sticker tied in place? LACED DECAL–Nice visual here.
  • 15d Queen’s herb? ANNES SENNA–A yawner, this one.
  • 71d What makes a pasta sauce sweet? RAGUS SUGAR–Sugar is no doubt an actual ingredient of Ragu.
  • 74d Self-driven trolleys? SMART TRAMS–Another that seems almost too real to generate a snicker.

Your reaction may differ, but I enjoyed the puzzle, even though the theme was rather ho-hum from a standpoint of its substance. There is a really nice architectural component, though, with pairs of themers crossing in every corner and another four in the middle of the grid. With 120 theme letters, though, there is a price to pay.

Non-theme stuff that grabbed me, positively and negatively, included:

  • 33a Things said to be true SOOTHS–Thumbs down. People don’t use this word.
  • 85a Be of __ (avail) USE TO–This partial is tired, imho.
  • 86a Bee-related prefix API–Standing alone, this prefix has always been a bit tired.
  • 91a Stop, in Quebec ARRET–This French word, to me, is just to the negative side of the gray area where foreign words are okay, but not fine.
  • 104a Visionary doctor? OCULIST–This clue I really like. It kinda saves the answer, which I’ve never seen anywhere but in crosswords. M-W’s definition includes ophthalmologists and optometrists.
  • 8d Ridder of ice DEFROSTER–I was not sure whether this clue was clever or a bailout. When I saw the clue for 73d, I concluded the latter.
  • 14d Fiber for neckwear TIE SILK–Seeing as how this answer appears never to have been in a crossword before, I’m thinking there’s a reason.
  • 32d Toon foe of Ferocious Flea ATOM ANT–I always like this answer for some reason, and this clue’s a really good one.
  • 73d Harbor jutters PIERS–See comment to 8d.

I wish I’d not been distracted by other activities when solving. I’m giving it a 3.5 as being solidly above average.

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25 Responses to Sunday, December 23, 2018

  1. Thanks, Jim!

    If you download the .puz from the Today’s Puzzles page, there should be a link to the PDF. It’s the same as the .puz link but with “pdf” at the end instead. I strongly recommend solving it on paper.

    • PJ Ward says:

      Nicely done! I really enjoyed this one. I was all over the grid before the SE showed me the way. After that the NW fell easily. It took a little longer for XMAS to click. It was worth it.

    • Penguins says:

      pdf didn’t look any different from puz so why recommend paper?

      Can’t say I enjoyed figuring the corner designs very much but it’s a really nice gimmick. Good cluing and fill as usual. Miss your DevilCross 5 spicers.

      • Because I had to code a bunch of BLANK rebus squares in those blank spaces, and you sort of lose the White Christmas effect with anything in those squares, in my opinion. You could solve it without writing anything in the blank spaces if you don’t care about getting Mr. Happy Pencil to show up, of course, but it can be tough to break that habit even for long-time solvers, and if you get stuck and have to reveal an answer, you’d no longer have all blank spaces like I intended.

        There was a way I could have encoded the squares to remain blank in Across Lite even after revealing a corner answer, but Across Lite would have warned solvers upon opening the puzzle that there was an incomplete solution, which I worried would be a major spoiler about the theme. Hence the coding with BLANK rebus squares. Printing out the puzzle means you don’t have to deal with any of those issues.

        • Norm says:

          I solved it with star symbols in the blank squares, which seemed Christmas-y enough to me that I didn’t really care they weren’t white. Much fun!

        • Penguins says:

          Okay, I solved the puz version leaving the squares empty/white.

          Thanks for replying.

    • David L says:

      Great puzzle, Evan!

    • Runaway Pancake says:

      Hey Evan! Much thanks for a very fun and challenging puzzle. I solved it using Across Lite and I’m glad I did. I probably would’ve erased holes in the corners if I’d used paper.

    • Craig Mazin says:

      Great puzzle, Evan. Loved it.

    • Richard H. says:

      I loved this puzzle! The satisfaction of getting the trick in the corners and the great clues/answers–wow, a stunner! Thank you for a great finish to the year.

  2. Noam D. Elkies says:

    25A: the string ASTI is consecutive in “East India”. This kind of “container” clue is common in cryptic crosswords; it is rather a rarity (though a welcome one by my lights) to see it in a “normal” US puzzle.

    –Signoff of a commenter located in Northern Delaware
    [actually in Cambridge as usual]

    • Jim Quinlan says:

      Ah! Thanks for pointing that out! I finally just started solving cryptics after being intimidated by them for so long- Shoulda caught that.

  3. Victor Fleming says:

    Good job, Derek, on the write-up of the NYT. I solved it seamlessly on my smart phone. Twenty-eight minutes and change got me the message to keep trying, which I did, correcting three typos. Still, no happy pencil. So, I kept looking. Long story short: I had SEE & SAW where HEM & HAW should have been, and I’d guessed early that the polka band started with THE ACCORDION, rather that ONE ACCORDION. If I’d not spent a good deal of the day tending to a 6-month old, these errors would have been the laugh of my day! Enjoyed, as you obviously did, analyzing the theme’s ionized and un-ionized answers.

  4. JohnH says:

    Doesn’t seen to have been a popular Sunday NYT, but I enjoyed the theme, and the fill went fine if maybe a little easy for my tastes. I, too, had OBITUARY for quite some time, but I had more trouble than Derek believing the joke about MECCA.

  5. RSP64 says:

    NYT: Are the base phrases “WITH ONE ACCORD” and “PAPAL BULL” well-known? I’ve never heard of either of them.

    • Norm says:

      Um … papal bulls about issues like contraception garnered a fair amount of press. Definitely fair game for a crossword puzzle. With one accord is not the most common idiomatic phrase, but the accordion version was too funny to complain about it.

    • Mark Abe says:

      A Papal Bull is a public decree issued by a Pope, and is definately in the language. On the other hand, although I’ve seen “In accord” frequently, I don’t recall seeing “With one accord.” All I could think of is that we have one family member who owns a Honda, so we are a group “with one Accord.”

  6. David L says:

    As an introvert, I have to object to 92D: “Introvert’s focus” — SELF. Introversion is neither egomania nor narcissism.

    Also, DRACONIC?

    I liked the puzzle overall, though.

    • Steve Manion says:

      Draconic means related to a dragon. It is not a synonym for draconian, which is derived from Draco, an ancient lawgiver who posited a legal code with severe penalties


      • David L says:

        Thanks — I assumed it was simply a rare or archaic form of draconian.

      • Christopher Smith says:

        So, it means “like a dragon,” which apparently takes us to “unduly harsh,” which makes it like another, really similar word that is easily recognized to mean “unduly harsh.” OK. It’s A Thing, but unfortunately that thing is not Good Crossword Fill.

        There’s a lot of other iffy fill, along with the WITH ONE ACCORD themer which is also pretty obscure. It wasn’t that difficult to solve but wasn’t too enjoyable either.

  7. David says:

    Then let us all with one accord
    Sing praises to our heav’nly Lord…

    Thus begins the final verse of the Christmas carol “The First Nowell.”
    The majority of solvers probably won’t be singing it today, but some certainly will know the phrase from that carol. Probably a good overlap in the Venn diagram with those who know from Papal Bulls, too.

  8. Jeff says:

    Unfortunately the math question in the NYT puzzle doesn’t read correctly in the NYT app. Says “5x = x2 ÷ 2” … they can do divided-by symbols but not exponents? A shame.

Comments are closed.