Sunday, July 7, 2019

LAT 8:53 (Jenni) 


NYT 10:06 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jenni) 


Universal 9:15 (Vic) 


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Vic) 


Jack Reuter’s New York Times crossword, “Hidden Tactics”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 7 7 19, “Hidden Tactics”

So this theme is something that doesn’t display well in the .puz format, but I don’t really care to spend more time eyeballing this puzzle by seeing how it plays in other formats. The notepad says “The print version of this puzzle contains multiple visual elements that this software cannot reproduce. We recommend using the New York Times app or desktop version, or printing out the PDF. The instructions in the print version read as follows: “The center of this puzzle represents a 70-Down/55-Down, in which you can achieve a 122-Across by moving the 25-Across.” What is visible from the theme in this format is:

  • 25a. [Possible move in 70-Down], KNIGHT TO B-EIGHT. Lost me already, with a weirdly spelled-out number where you’d expect a numeral.
  • 122a. [Possible result of 25-Across], CHECKMATE IN ONE. Good lord, can we not have the final letter crossing ONE ON?
  • 55d. [Equipment for 70-Down], BOARD. 
  • 70d. [Subject game of this puzzle], CHESS. On the right side. So that you see them in the grid as BOARD CHESS instead of CHESS and BOARD or, heck, finding a space for the 10-letter word CHESSBOARD.

Presumably the center of the grid has chessy action with shaded squares or something? Don’t care. Not into chess. Am into crosswords. Crosswords that work as crosswords. And there was too much sketchy fill in this puzzle to hold my interest. Chess aficionados who solved in another format, tell me how you liked the puzzle. I’m not looking it up because the chess angle just isn’t going to interest me much.

So there’s some sparkly fill in here, yes. TIDE POD, “I CONCUR”, CHIPS AHOY, CHEROKEES, NOSFERATU, the wicked COWBIRD, FREE TO GO, glacial ICE BLUE, SEPPUKU, and ROGUISH.

But it was offset by the clunkier stuff, like E-NOTE (nobody uses this term! constructors who use word lists, kill this entry), ESTOPS, EROSE, plural ANSELS (even though there is finally a second famous one), AKU ([When doubled, a Thor Heyerdahl book], for real?!), OATER, MATIC, AS A UNIT, plural TETLEYS, plus that ENA PCT CTO RETOTAL and plural OUIS combo in the opening section of the grid.The old Scowl-o-Meter rattled back to life here. I mean, what the heck is 11d. [Touch up, as styled hair], REGEL? It’s not a word, that’s what. And I’m not convinced that SORE KNEES is anything other than an arbitrary formulation. BAD KNEES and BUM KNEE feel better to me.

Note that the grid is 22×22 rather than the customary 21×21. If the puzzle took you a bit longer than your average, that’s why.

2.5 stars from me, without seeing whatever the other formats present.

Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen’s Universal Crossword, “Candy Crush”—Judge Vic’s write-up

Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen’s Universal Crossword, “Candy Crush,” July 7, 2019, solution


From two vets who’ve teamed up a good bit over time, a 144-answer grid, with a few too many blocks–a sign that filling the grid may have been difficult. I’m thinking a 23 x 23 may have been needed for this theme.

Not certain what the crush is (I misread it first as crunch), but you can’t miss the candy.

First, we must look at these three items:

  • 18a [Having no intermission (Hint: Enter a digit in square 1!)] 1-ACT,
  • 22a [Reduce to nothing (Hint: Enter a digit in square 1!)] 0-OUT, and
  • 25a [Higher than the Celsius freezing point (Hint: Enter a digit in square 6!)] ABOVE 0.

That done, we know that a 100 will be in play somewhere and we are now ready to look at the following:

  • 10d [Tagline for “Baywatch”?] BIG HUNK LIFESAVERS–Two candies. I’d not heard of the former.
  • 14d [Bangles for space cadets?] AIR HEADS CHARMS–Two candies.
  • 18d [Monumental bout of retail therapy? (Hint: Enter digits in squares 1-3!)] 100 GRAND SPREE–Two candies. I’d not heard of the latter.
  • 23d [Rich-but-dense playboys?] SUGAR DADDY DUM-DUMS–Two candies.
  • 33d [Nova in our galaxy?] MILKY WAY STARBURST–Two candies.
  • 47d [Lies about making big bucks?] PAYDAY WHOPPERS–Two candies.
  • 51 [Snide sounds from Trekkers?] NERDS SNICKERS–Two candies.

There is some other high-quality stuff of note:


There is some stuff I’d rather not note:

  • NOGS

There are also 44 three-letter entries, and quite of few of them are–well, you know.

What an ambitious enterprise! Though, I am still unclear what the crush is–unless it’s just that there is a lot of candy in this puzzle.

2.5 stars.

P.S.–The law of unintended circumstances at play? The Crossword Compiler solution grid has the word ZERO in successive vertical blocks. I loved Zero candy bars when I was a kid!

David Steinberg’s Universal Crossword, “Minitheme”—Judge Vic’s write-up

David Steinberg’s Universal Crossword, “Minitheme,” Sunday, July 7, 2109, solution

In this grid, which has 72 answers, 11 of which are 8 letters long or longer (the benchmarks, imo, of a themeless puzzle), a clever 3-unit theme runs:

  • 18a [Southern peas and rice dish] HOPPING JOHN
  • 34a [18- or 52-Across, perhaps?] BOUNCING BABY BOY
  • 52a [Exercise where the hands touch overhead] JUMPING JACK

Could it be that some friend or family member of David’s has recently had twin sons? And named them Jack and John?

Lots of good stuff here:

  • TAKE BETS–This has appeared only once before, per Ginsberg’s database.
  • MATE-IN-TWO–I was surprised to see in the database that this has appeared twice before.

Paid for with EOS, PED, SYS, HEBE, and OSTEAL. Still, a most effective effort overall!

4.2 stars.

P.S. — Just finished solving the NYT. What are the odds that MATE-IN-TWO and MATE-IN-ONE would bed in two different puzzles published on the same day?

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Opening Set” – Jenni’s writeup

Jim is getting ready to bike all over the UK, so I’ll be covering the Washington Post puzzles until he gets back. This is fun one to start with! Each theme answer is a two-word phrase that starts with the letters in the clue…it’s more fun to do than to explain. Let’s see:

Washington Post, July 7, 2019, Evan Birnholz, “Opening Set,” solution grid

  • 23a [DC athletes?] are the DALLAS COWBOYS.
  • 34a [LA woman?] is a LEAD ACTRESS.
  • 49a [FM band?] is FLEETWOOD MAC.
  • 53a [With 84 Across, PA system?] is PHONETIC ALPHABET.
  • 70a [TV show?] is THE VIEW. I didn’t immediately realize this was a theme answer.
  • 88a [CD player?] is (or was) a CASSETTE DECK. Raise your hand if you were SO excited to get a cassette deck installed in your car. My dad was a music and gadget lover, so we had cars with eight-track players, and then cassette decks, and when he bought a car with a six-CD changer in the trunk he started driving home the long way from work.
  • 105a [AP physics subject?] is ATOMIC POWER.
  • 118a [US military members?] are UNION SOLDIERS.

It’s not a particularly tricky theme, which is fine. It’s fresh and fun and all the answers are solidly in the language.

A few other things:

  • 16d [Red star, once] is PETE ROSE. Hmm. Shouldn’t that be [Reds star]? The team is the Reds, not the Red.
  • It seems fitting that we also have [McCarthyist epithet] at 41d. That’s COMMIE, of course.
  • 52d is [Moon seen on “Frasier”]. No, not that. It’s DAPHNE.
  • I love conversational entries like 82a: [“It’s not a big deal”]. I’LL LIVE.
  • I’ll forgive a fill-in-the-blank when it’s The Boss: 128a [“‘Cause ___ like us, baby we were born to run” (Springsteen lyric)] is TRAMPS.

What I didn’t now before I did this puzzle: that The Cars bassist is Benjamin ORR (yay! Not a hockey clue!)

Also: props to Evan for cluing SHOE and SENATOR with women (WNBA stars and Gillibrand, Harris, and Warren, respectively).

I leave you with this song, which Evan pointed out is particularly apt for this puzzle.



Garry Morse’s LA Times crossword, “Deliberate Lying” – Jenni’s write-up

Each theme answer adds “ly” to a base phrase – deliberate-ly.

Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2019, Garry Morse, “Deliberate Lying,” solution grid

  • 23a [Enjoy prettifying the gifts?] is GLADLY WRAP (Glad wrap).
  • 28a [Wrinkled Sunday dinner?] is a RUMPLY ROAST (rump roast). This made me laugh when I finally got it – I had L instead of R for the first letter so it eluded me for a while.
  • 38a [Skinny, loose-jointed club golfer?] is a GANGLY MEMBER (gang member).
  • 65a [Dishes like a 28-Across?] are HOMELY COOKING (home cooking).
  • 91a [Just taps on the door?] means one HARDLY KNOCKS (hard knocks).
  • 107a [Texas Hold ’em in Texas?] is DRAWLY POKER (draw poker). I think of Texas as having more of a twang than a drawl, but I’ll take it.
  • 114a [Bird that returns fire when hunted?] is a DEADLY DUCK (dead duck).

All the base phrases are solid and the wacky entries are amusing. A fun Sunday theme.

A few other things:

  • We get [“Piece of cake”] cluing both NO PROBLEM and EASY PEASY.
  • 28d [Took off] is ROSE, not LOST, as I first thought.
  • 82a [Sandburg’s metaphorical fog carrier] are CAT FEET. The Sandburg in question is Carl, in case you’re not familiar with the poem.
  • 79d [42-Down features] are HORNS, because 42d is RHINO. One RHINO would only have one HORN, though.
  • 87d is [Horror film reaction]. I had the initial S and tried SCREECH. It’s actually SHUDDER.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Thor has a son named MAGNI, at least in the comics.

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33 Responses to Sunday, July 7, 2019

  1. Pete Mitchell says:

    Love chess. Didn’t love puzzle. Chessboard provided zero help in solving. I’ll take the author’s word for it that it’s mate in one but short of setting up a board with pieces to see it, which I’m not interested enough to do, it’s kind of lost on me.

  2. philr says:

    Amy, if you have any interest at all, the full presentation contained circle, triangles, shaded squares and the outline of the board. Virtually unreadable. Also, in the chess board grey squares signified black squares, but the crossword black squares ruined that. You also forgot the glory of EZINE

    • dkb says:

      Also, a “chess puzzle” telling us which piece goes where to make checkmate in one is about as exciting as getting a maze with the correct path prefilled in.

      • mt says:

        I think there are multiple ways to get checkmate in one, in which case it’s getting a maze with a bunch of valid paths but only one correct…

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Actually, @philr, I hollered to my husband about EZINE, but he said he thought he’d read the word recently. Then I hit ENOTE and told him about that, providing an example sentence where “sent me an ENOTE” stands in for “texted me,” and there might have been a giggle.

  3. scrivener says:

    I rather enjoyed the NYT’s cute theme, and I don’t know chess very well. Lots of crosswordese, yes, but figurable with most crossings (for those of us still learning crosswordese). REGEL is a much more welcome word to me than most of the European language words that haven’t crept into regular American parlance. At least I can type it in and know it’s right. 30:07 for me and 3.75 stars.

  4. Christopher Smith says:

    The CHESS BOARD did populate on the NYT app, which makes a huge difference. They’ve done things like this in the past before the app had those capabilities, which ruined it for me. (There a Beatles-themed one a few years back that was particularly unsolvable.) So kudos to the app developers.

    The theme was cool & different, even for someone with only minimal knowledge of chess. But yes, the fill was poor. Still it was a break from the kind of “wacky phrase” stuff we’ve been seeing a lot of.

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    No. Just, no. The puzzle-in-a-puzzle was bad enough, but EZINE and ENOTE in the same puzzle? Just no.

  6. David L says:

    The puzzle was pretty straightforward to solve with minimal attention to the thematic elements and, like Amy, I had no interest in trying to figure out the chess puzzle once I was done, especially as I had no idea what the circles and triangles were meant to represent (white and black, yes, but which pieces?)

    This strikes me as one of those themes that was exceedingly ingenious from the construction perspective but not particularly interesting for the solver.

    • Ben says:

      The letters inside the circles/triangles indicate which piece they are: P for Pawn, R for Rook, B for Bishop, K for King, and N for Knight.

  7. Marty D says:

    Although it was solvable without analyzing the chess setup, I think this was much more enjoyable for the constructor than the solver.

  8. F Grant says:

    The letters in the circles and triangles identify the pieces.

  9. Rebecca F says:

    I enjoyed the chess theme. I’ve never played chess, but I like seeing the constructor’s personality come through in the puzzles. On the NYT website, it was clear immediately upon opening that we were looking at a chess (or possibly checkers) board, and the fills in the center populated the board with P’s, N’s, K’s, etc. to stand in for the appropriate chess pieces.

    Reviews often acknowledge that the quality of fills sometimes takes a hit in order to accommodate a complex theme, and this shouldn’t be reserved for occasions when the theme resonates on a personal level. I think the puzzler deserves some kudos for this interesting and innovative theme and some leeway for the fill, despite the fact that I have no personal interest in chess.

  10. Armagh says:

    A hot mess of a NYT Sunday if ever there was one. Classic example of a constructor tone-deaf to the solving experience.

    • DW says:

      And a classic example of construction-software-adorers (usually men) being far too enamored of the tricks it enables to see that the puzzle/the fill just isn’t good.

      Software as a tool, yes; software as a worshipped idol, no.

  11. Trent Evans says:

    Vic – In the Sunday Universal, “Candy Crush” refers to the popular mobile game in which candies come down in columns. So Jeff and Tracy’s placement of the theme answers in long downs cleverly evokes that game. Loved this one.

  12. Tracy Gray says:

    Thanks for your sweet review of our Sunday Universal puzzle, Judge Vic. To answer your question, the puzzle and title were inspired by the very popular on-line game “Candy Crush (Saga)” and our crossword interpretation includes “crushing” together (one above the other) two well-known candy names together to create fun phrases. Jeff and I tried to pick candies that can be purchased in the candy aisles now, although I certainly remember the Zero candy bar. Hope you all unwrap one of your favorite candies while solving our puzzle!

    • Vic Fleming says:

      I should have Googled it. I’ve now downloaded the app. Maybe tonight I will try to learn the rules. Hey, it’s only been around for seven and a half years!

      • Tracy Gray says:

        It’s addictive, Vic! I played for several years and made it to Level 2000 and then just decided I was done.

  13. Phil says:

    It was an advantage to do the NYT in Across Lite because you weren’t subjected to all the excess nonsense in the middle. Without that, it played like a themeless with too many cross references.

    I loved the Universal Sunday, but in Across Lite, it gave me an error when I followed the instruction and entered digits in three squares. I had to spell out ONE and ZERO. I wish whoever is responsible would work harder to make the electronic versions of puzzles fully functional since that’s how more and more people are solving these days.

  14. Jadzia says:

    Jenni, some rhinos have one horn and some have two.

  15. DW says:

    WaPo: As usual, it leads the pack — clever theme, fun solve, women in the fill and the clues, and clues that never rely on icky stereotypes. Thanks, Evan, for a consistently good Sunday solve.

  16. GlennP says:

    I’m increasingly VEXed and TESTY about crosswords that suggest (or even require) that a specific method be used to solve! That’s especially true if the puzzle is something I have subscribe to because then I feel cheated. I had to give up solving on paper several years ago because of my essential tremor and I think I’m right that the AcrossLite is not available for the Android platform. I don’t want to learn the quirks of several different web apps so I’ve focused getting the puzzles I’m interested in into my Crosswords app. So today’s NYT raised my TESTY level considerably.

  17. Dr Fancypants says:

    I’m too lazy to dig it up, but there was a Sunday many years ago (when I was a novice solver) that did this better—the pieces were rebuses, and there were two chessboards, showing the “before” and “after” (so you see the checkmate happen).

  18. Brenda Rose says:

    Yet another Sunday filled with slogfests. If I ruled the world I would say that Sunday xwords should have laugh out loud puns &/or grid spanning clues that derive from current events in celebration of a week well lived. Which obviously means BEQ should always do the NYT Sunday puzzles. He’s the consummate breakfast spoiler. The current president is saying stuff in public that no statesperson would dare so I believe the puzzle world is adult enough to swallow a double entendre guffaw.

  19. Peter Nylander says:

    Puzzle snobs out in force today. Jack’s first published puzzle was clever and fun to solve.

  20. JohnH says:

    I disagree with the majority. Actually, I don’t play chess, although I know the rules. But the NYT theme intrigued me, and I appreciated the challenge of having to work it out. It also wasn’t like a meta, in that figuring out the move, I could then get the theme entry in the NW, and so finish that corner, which otherwise had me stymied. Nothing at all like the difficulty of a welter of proper names that fans take for granted as THEIR knowledge base.

    Still, no question some lousy fill. Surprised me really, as that was mostly off the “board,” where I’d have expected more of a need of kludge.

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