Sunday, February 17, 2019

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WaPo 12:40 (Jim Q) 


Universal 9:13 (Judge Vic) 


Universal (Sunday) 10:10 (Jim Q) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “String Quartets” – Jim Q’s writeup

Pretty much as straightforward as the WaPo gets today!

THEME: FOUR OF A KIND. Each theme answer contains a letter that is repeated four times, and when “strung” together, those letters spell out the revealer.


WaPo crossword solution * 2 17 19 * “String Quartets” * Birnholz

  • 23A [*Group of clerical workers] OFFICE STAFF
  • 25A [*What may be viewed during a lunar eclipse] BLOOD MOON.
  • 31A [*Highly hectic] TUMULTUOUS.
  • 51A [*Like a perfectly filled-in crossword puzzle] ERROR FREE. I got hung up on H-BOMB / HRS, so I guess I can’t claim an ERROR FREE puzzle though I found the mistake quickly.
  • 53A [*Mission-critical workspace] CONTROL ROOM.
  • 66A [*House opposite Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin] HUFFLEPUFF.
  • 72A [*Waters bordering India’s western coast] ARABIAN SEA.
  • 87A [*Ornamental objects] KNICKKNACKS. 
  • 92A [*Highest level of NCAA competition] DIVISION I.
  • 106A [*Stern and businesslike] NO NONSENSE. 
  • 117A [*Terminated with no exit, as a street] DEAD ENDED
  • 119A [Powerful hand, and what’s spelled out by the most frequently occurring letters in the starred clues’ answers] FOUR OF A KIND

I like the way that, in Evan’s usual style, all of the theme answers work together to spell out the revealer. The puzzle is jam-packed with theme answers and is still filled cleanly, which is to be expected from WaPo puzzles. Other than that, I don’t have too much to say about the theme. Seems like there’s a nice balance in the WaPo between quirky and daring puzzles with others that play right over the plate. This one falls in the latter camp.

So instead, let’s talk about URINE (67D [Drug test sample stuff]), shall we? Evan’s predecessor, Merl Reagle, discussed that specific word in the movie Wordplay. Citing the infamous “Breakfast Test” (you can read about that here), he refused to use it in his puzzles even though it would’ve gotten him out of a jam on numerous occasions. I find the idea of the Breakfast Test to be extremely dated, and I know I’m not alone. If the word URINE (a perfectly appropriate term) in a puzzle is going to ruin your day, then perhaps the problem isn’t with the puzzle itself. It’s not like Evan went out of his way to make waves and use it… it simply led to the cleanest fill. Congrats on your debut on the big stage, URINE!


  • 104D [Dice game played with three six-sided dice] CEE-LO. Never heard of this game. It probably faded in crossword popularity due to this guy.
  • 35D [Where to get a 7 and 7 for $0.00] OPEN BAR. Not true. This should cost you at least $1.00. Tip your bartenders, folks.
  • 24D/123A [First name in jazz/First name in jazz] ETTA/ELLA. Took me a while to change ELLA to ETTA, and it made me smile when the clue repeated itself with my initial answer later on.
  • 62A [Zaps, as leftovers] REWARMS. I guess it works, though don’t we all say “reheat”?
  • 95A [Auditory ossicle] EAR BONE. I had EAR HOLE. Ha! That left me trying to figure out an instrument with the pattern HASSOO?, and I almost convinced myself that Mozart wrote a concerto for the HASSOOK.

Also, took me a moment to grok the meaning behind the title, “String Quartets.” At first I thought I was missing something- like the theme answers had something to do with music. Nope. Read as a command, if you “string” the “quartets” it spells the revealer.

Standard, fun puzzle. Hope URINE didn’t piss you off. 3.1 stars from me.

David Kwong’s New York Times crossword, “Trivial Matters”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 17 19, “Trivial Matters”

The theme answers gather up six Trivial Pursuit questions and their six answers, each of which includes a color rebus that matches the color of that topic category in Trivial Pursuit:

  • 22a. {What kind of tree ___?] ALWAYS HAS FOLIAGE? / 30a. [Answer to 22-Across [Science & Nature]], EVER{GREEN} crossing the forgotten TOM {GREEN}. (If you only got that name via the crossings, don’t bother Googling for more info.) You get a green wedge for Science & Nature.
  • 66a. [What 1986 ___ romantic comedy got its title from a song by the Psychedelic Furs?], HIGH SCHOOL / 85a. [Answer to 66-Across [Entertainment]], PRETTY IN {PINK} crossing a {PINK}IE.
  • 68a. [Who wrote a 2003 best seller about a ___?] SECRET CODE / 82a. [Answer to 68-Across [Art & Literature]], DAN {BROWN} crossing {BROWN} BREADS.
  • 113a. [What ___ comes from a farm bird?], DELAWARE NICKNAME / 46a. [Answer to 113-Across [Geography]], {BLUE} HEN STATE crossing 35d. [1962 hit for the Ikettes], I’M {BLUE}. I always was partial to the light blue questions … and DELAWARE NICKNAME is one weird-looking thing to find in a crossword puzzle.
  • 13d. [Where were battleships sunk in an 1894 ___?] JAPANESE VICTORY / 48a. [Answer to 13-Down [History]], {YELLOW} SEA crossing MELLOW {YELLOW}.
  • 39d. [What annual game have the ___ won more than any other team?], OKLAHOMA SOONERS / 104a. [Answer to 39-Down [Sports & Leisure]], {ORANGE} BOWL crossing {ORANGE}MAN.
  • 107d. [Original edition of this puzzle’s theme], GENUS. The word the Trivial Pursuit people used for no good reason.

Neat theme! The color rebus squares are also placed carefully in the grid to be in a circle, like a Trivial Pursuit playing piece with six colored wedges in it.

Now, when you have 12 theme entries including 6 rebus squares and the rebus placement is inflexible, your grid’s gonna get a little tight. Before I encountered any of the theme, I’d already rolled my eyes at fill like ETAPE ORA ANIS AMAT AMINOR—and that was just along the top of the grid. If you’re gonna drop an ETAPE in the grid, try to hide it down in the bottom, not right where your solvers will encounter it in the first moments of solving. OH, MAN. YIPES.

Also, if you’re gonna include an answer word more than once, keep the two on opposite sides of the grid. 83d NO USE and 103d USE TO are far too close together.

Three more things:

  • 102a. [Select, as sides for a game], CHOOSE UP. Cool entry.
  • 118a. [Song heard at the start of “Saturday Night Fever”], STAYIN’ ALIVE. It sure is catchy. Theory: Barry Gibb’s falsetto derives from the incredible tightness of his pants.
  • 9d. [Scorer of 12 World Cup goals], PELE / 10d. [Spanish ouzo flavoring], ANIS. Glancing at the grid again after watching the Bee Gees video, I couldn’t help noticing the PE NIS dangling in 10d.

4.6 stars for the theme, 3.2 stars for the rest.

Kevin Christian’s Universal Crossword, 2-17-19, “Sound Progress”—Judge Vic’s Write-up

Kevin Christian’s Universal Crossword, “Sound Progress,” 2-17-19, solution

Based on sound, not letters, Kevin presents five progressive iterations of P*L, in each instance the second unit of a two-part ILSA. All with long vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, OO.

  • 17a [Place for a thermos] LUNCH PAIL
  • 26a [Zest source] LEMON PEEL
  • 37a [Unsolicited manuscripts] SLUSH PILE
  • 52a [Viewpoint sampling] STRAW POLL
  • 63a [Fair play’s opposite] DIRTY POOL–A shame this one has to be different. I suppose NASTY PUKE was deemed inappropriate.

With five long horizontals making up the theme, we can skip right to the verticals for the rest of the good stuff:

  • 1d [“I’ll do that for you”] ALLOW ME.
  • 2d [Cosmetic adjustment] TOUCH-UP.
  • 9d [“I don’t think so”] WELL NO–HELL NO would have worked; just change the clue for 9a to [Critic, in modern lingo].
  • 11d [Wedding dress material] TAFFETA–Good word, doesn’t appear much.
  • 12d [Springsteen’s ___ Band] E-STREET.
  • 40d [“No problem!”] IT’S EASY.
  • 42d [Microsoft virtual assistant] CORTANA.
  • 44d [Say “I’m gay,” say] COME OUT.Good work, Kevin! 4.0 stars.

Alex Eaton-Sainers’ Sunday Universal crossword, “Mind Your Peas and Queues” – Jim Q’s writeup

Alex Eaton-Sainers is always an exciting name to see in a byline- I know nothing about him other than that he writes fantastic puzzles and is a frequent contributor to Fireball (I wouldn’t even assume his gender were it not for his own fun bio comments with each Fireball e-mail for which he is the constructor).

While this theme is nothing new, it’s solid and quite funny.

THEME: Homophones. Familiar phrases with the formula ______ AND _______ are reimagined wackily when both sides are replaced with homophones.


  • Universal Sunday crossword solution * 2 17 19 * “Mind Your Peas and Queues” * Eaton-Sainers

    23A [Brand of cement shoes?] WEIGHT AND SEA. Hilarious. Somewhat dark, but still hilarious.

  • 34A [Unorthodox surf-and-turf combo?] HART AND SOLE. A far cry from steak and lobster. 
  • 52A [What Matt Damon likes about his spy movie franchise?] BOURNE AND BREAD. Not sure about this one… does BREAD refer to the money that Damon makes?
  • 72A [Mongolian history book title?] PROSE AND KHANS. 
  • 91A [Collection of Batman’s greatest hits?] WHACKS AND WAYNE. This one must’ve been tough to clue. Seems like a stretch. 
  • 106A [Good day for a Jewish miner?] LOX AND LODES. Really enjoyed this visual. My favorite themer of the bunch.
  • 122A [Ronnie’s album interpreting John’s poetry?] DUNN AND DONNE. Two homophones for “done”! Appropriately placed as the last theme answer.

Last week, Judge Vic noted that 38 three-letter-words was a bit much for a Sunday puzzle. I agree, and next time I construct a 21x I’ll be conscious of that- because the first thing I noticed here besides a solid, fun theme was how often I was filling in three letter entries (40). They’re rarely fun to uncover.

CUBANO, ADDY (as clued), LOVE IT, AMEX CARD, SOLAR ROAD, LADY DI, BOARD EXAM, HEALING UP and SNOW SHOED helped to keep the fill lively.

EURO AREA and LEMON SODA felt “green paint-ish.”

As far as themers go, they all landed pretty hard for me! Only WHACKS AND WAYNE induced a bit of side eye.

3.6 stars from me. Already looking forward to the next Eaton-Sainers byline.

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword, “Getting Ahead” – Jenni’s write-up

It took me a little while to grok the theme, although it’s not complicated. I’ll blame that on the on-call brain that was woken in the middle of the night.

The revealer is down at 94d [Michael Jackson hit … or what you can do to the start of each answer to a starred clue], and the answer is BEAT IT. The first word in each theme answer is something that fits into BEAT the ____.

LAT 2/17, solution grid

  • 22a [*Online business-building method] is CROWD FUNDINGBeat the crowd. You get that now, and I don’t need to repeat it each time, right?
  • 27a [*Las Vegas pros] are ODDSMAKERS.
  • 31d [*Overextended] is SPREAD THIN.
  • 48a [*Guinness entries] are RECORD SETTERS.
  • 51d [*Where one might idle away the time?] is a TRAFFIC JAM.
  • 81a [*User’s nightmare] is a SYSTEM FAILURE. Computer user, not drug user. Although drug users can have multi-organ failure…
  • 102a [*Zapping direction] is HEAT ON HIGH.
  • 107a [*Nine-to-fiver] is a CLOCK WATCHER.

I’m surprised they didn’t include 44d [Provides home care services?], which is HOUSE SITS.

It’s a fine theme. All the theme answers and the BEAT phrases are solid. I prefer wacky wordplay, but I can’t complain about this one.

A few other things:

  • 1a and 120a are ATONIC and ATOMIC, respectively. That can’t be a coincidence.
  • 36a [Call into question] is OPPUGN. I have never heard that before. IMPUGN, sure. Google Ngram viewer supports this opinion. I could have saved it for “what I didn’t know…” but it’s not interesting. It’s just bad fill.

  • 59a [Hard-to-meet condition] is a BIG IF. I got the last letter first and it was hard to parse. Worth the effort. Nice entry.
  • 65a [Satan] is BEELZEBUB. Hey, if I’ve got the earworm, everyone should have the earworm.
  • 95a [Pungent green] is CRESS. For some reason, I was looking for a color. For no good reason, I should say.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Neil Diamond had a hit with SHILOH in 1970. I looked it up thinking I might know the song but not the title. Nope. Never heard it before. I was OK with that.

Let’s have a palate cleanser, shall we?

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11 Responses to Sunday, February 17, 2019

  1. JohnH says:

    The NYT looked perfect for me, with a heavy dose of theme clues that naturally makes solving a challenge. In practice, it sure lived up to the title. Totally hated it, and the bit with TAYE, TIMON, and ROSEMAN a rare Sunday did not finish. Yuck.

    I sure didn’t know of TOM GREEN, but that crossing was easy. The idea that Delaware was anything but “the first state” seemed awfully obscure to me. It didn’t help there that I misremembered the Cole Porter song I’ve forgotten a note or word of as EVER rather than EVAH. But I guess there at least I could fairly say I could learn something by sussing it out. Elsewhere, no way in hell.

  2. Scott says:

    I also had ROSEMAN for a little while until I realized my error.

  3. dh says:

    WaPo – A few years ago I took a bad fall and tore a major tendon in my leg. I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh, that’s painful!” Re: 125A – I’ll defer to bigger brains on this one, but is TONER actually a solution? I thought it was a powder. Is a powder a solution? Of course, it could be a solution to blank pages …

    • Pilgrim says:

      I did a double take on [Solution in a printer] = TONER as well. At first I thought “I guess the toner particles have to be in the cartridge somehow (i.e., the solute?).” But given the particle size, maybe “suspension” instead of “solution”? Unless I’m missing the point entirely and something else was intended instead by the clue, like you suggested.

  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Great Easter Egg on the NYT app with the wedge reveal at the end. In general the app experience has improved a lot over the past couple of years.

  5. cyberdiva says:

    Hmm. Amy rolls her eyes at ETAPE ORA ANIS AMAT AMINOR for no reason I can understand. All of those were gimmes for me, and none seemed true crosswordese. My eye rolling (and a bit of swearing) occurred at the crossing of TIMON and TAYE. JohnH, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

  6. really? says:

    I have been critical of a certain reviewer on this site on occasion (See WaPo). Just wanted to say I thought today was solid. We tend to squeak when piqued, rather than sated.

  7. Lauren says:

    So happy to see Cee-lo in the puzzle! By far my favorite dice game, and the only gambling in which I indulge. Here in DC the rules vary slightly depending on which neighborhood is hosting the game (14th St, 18th St, and H St being the main rule sets). I’m not sure about other places, but it’s huge in the service industry here.
    So, yes, tip your bartenders. Chances are we’ll use it to ante after work trying for the high cee- 456!

  8. Fletcher B. says:

    WaPo 74A: can someone tell me how Orly can be in Lyon (“French airport that’s in either Paris or Lyon”)? Thanks!

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