Sunday, July 21, 2019

LAT DNF (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jenni) 


Universal 9:10 (Vic) 


Universal (Sunday) 15:49 (Vic) 


Jason Mueller & Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Fifty Years On”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 7 21 19, “Fifty Years On”

We’ve got a moon landing 50th anniversary theme:

  • 23a. [Name of a sea first visited in 1969], TRANQUILITY. The Sea of Tranquillity, that’s the spelling I’ve seen most often, even though it’s the British spelling.
  • 71a. [Newsmaker of July 1969], ARMSTRONG, Neil.
  • 110a. [Announcement of July 1969], THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.
  • 3d. [Long-distance traveler of 1969], APOLLO ELEVEN. Not loving the spelled-out number.
  • 14d. [Achievement of 1969], MAN ON THE MOON. See the little face inside the round moon in the grid’s center?
  • 32d. [What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in a corner of this puzzle], ONE SMALL STEP. The small STEP is in a rebus square where 115d IN{STEP}S meets 124a {STEP}MOMS.
  • 36d. [What 71-Across took in 1969, as represented literally in another corner of this puzzle], ONE GIANT LEAP. The LEAP occupies four squares, much more space than the four letters in a single square for STEP.

I like the extension of the STEP and LEAP to the visual representation of their respective sizes/impacts. Also want COOKIE JAR to be thematic, since the grid’s got that stacked right on ARMSTRONG. Anyone have a good recipe for moon cookies?

Five more things:

  • 115a. [“A-O.K. for launch!”], IT’S A GO. Eh, random fill with a theme tie-in in the clue but not paired with another answer … meh.
  • 59a. [The Notorious ___ (Supreme Court nickname)], RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • 95a. [Wizards, but not witches], NBA TEAM. Great clue! Obscured required capital W for the Washington Wizards.
  • 117a. [Do-nothing’s state], IDLESSE. Say what? Never seen that form of the word before. But I’m changing this blog’s name to Idlesse Oblige.
  • 65d. [Nationality seen in most of Romania], OMANI. Clue could almost work for ROMANI, too.

The fill’s got some rough spots (your plural UMS and DETS, for example), but overall pretty solid. Four stars from me.

Kevin Christian and Tyler Hinman’s Universal Crossword, “Look Around!”—Judge Vic’s write-up

Kevin Christian and Tyler Hinman’s Universal Crossword, “Look Around!,” July 21, 2019, solution

THEME: Two of my friends team up for something special here. The first two and last two letters of the theme answers create four-letter words that can follow blind. Check it out, starting with the reveal:

58a [Surprises unpleasantly, and a hint to each starred answer’s first two + last two letters] BLIND SIDES
16a [*Science fiction barrier] FORCE FIELD–Blindfold.
24a [*Junk email sender] SPAM BOT–Blind spot.
36a [*”Scream” actor] DAVID ARQUETTE–Blind date.
48a [*Northwest Texas city] LUBBOCK–Blind luck.

Clever! Entertaining. Unusual. And, at 10-7-13-7-10, pretty dense. Other stuff that merits mention includes:

28a [End-of-dictionary instrument] ZITHER
34a [Emmy winner, e.g.] TV STAR
50a [Social justice hashtag] ME TOO
2d [Evaluate] LOOK AT
3d [Scale opening] DO RE MI
10d [Dirty tactic in a fight] HEAD BUTT
11d [Dramatis ___ (play characters)] PERSONAE
28d [Astrologer’s concern] ZODIAC
36d [False belief] DELUSION
37d [Mobile individual] ALABAMAN
43d [Like rooms with high windows] SKY-LIT
45d [Not seeing eye to eye] AT ODDS
46d [Useless] NO HELP
47d [End of a rhyming phrase meaning “relaxed”] GOOSEY

That’s a lot of good fill to go with a dense theme!

4.2 stars!

Alan Olschwang’s Sunday Universal Crossword, “Pieces of Eight”—Judge Vic’s write-up

Alan Olschwang’s Sunday Universal Crossword, “Pieces of Eight,” July 21, 2019, solution

THEME: What a delight to work out this extremely clever theme from one of my oldest friends in the biz–Alan Olschwang, Esq., of Southern California! How do I explain it?

Well, consider that THE 7-YEAR ITCH crosses NOT 1 BIT at the numbers and, pursuant to a directive in the cluing, the solver is to add two numbers and use their sum at the crossing. Now, see title. See also the following:

26a [Marriage challenge (Hint: Enter the sum of two numbers … in square 4)] THE 8-YEAR ITCH
4d [Zilch (… in square 4)] NOT 8 BIT.

29a [Regular guy (… in square 4)] JOE 8-PACK
13d [Was a bad dancer (… in square 4)] HAD 8 LEFT FEET.

62a [CBS cop series (… in square 7)] HAWAII 8-O
53d [Early sitcom featuring the Douglas family (… in square 3)] MY 8 SONS.

68a [Deck supports (… in squares 1 and 4)] 8 BY 8S
39d [Small French cake (… in square 6)] PETIT 8 and
68d [Slightly below maximum spiciness (… in square 1)] 8-ALARM.

77a [Mohawk tribe’s confederation (… in square 1)] 8 NATIONS
77d [Sort of circus or binder (… in square 1)] 8-RING

107a [High salary, informally (… in square 1)] 8 FIGURES
107d [Box office bargain (… in square 1)] 8FER

111a [2016 Denzel Washington movie, with “The” (… in square 12)] MAGNIFICENT 8
115d [Smallest kind of band (… in square 1)] 8-MAN

In the solution grid, you will see eight written in, rather than the digit. An argument can be made that some of the entries’s usage in the language call for digits, and some call for spelled-out numbers. Forget that! This, to me, seems like a brilliant piece of cruciverbalism.

Consider also the following items:

34a [Solar and lunar events] ECLIPSES
41a [Book borrower’s concern] DUE DATE
47a [Mosaic piece] TESSERA
50a [Way-out cases] X-FILES
64a [On the loose] AT LARGE
75a [Commonplace] PROSAIC
92a [___ value (old car statistic)] TRADE-IN
96a [Cityscape feature] EDIFICE
99a [Signaled] GESTURED
8d [Football throw to a specific place] SPOT PASS
11d [1988 Olympic track star, familiarly] FLOJO
12d [“Good gravy!”] MY WORD
55d [Lake group in the Adirondacks] SARANAC
63d [Specifically] IN PARTICULAR
88d [Apt job for someone named Buster?] DEA AGENT

Good fill! I’m not saying there is no marginal fill. See, if you must


You know what? I felt like I had to scrape through the grid to find these eight items, as they were not jumping out at me as I solved. Possibly because I was enjoying the theme answers and the non-theme fill highlighted before the immediately preceding list so much. That, I believe, tells me the above eight were a cheap price to pay for this nice puzzle.

Way to go, Alan and David!

4.5 stars!


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Turn Signals” – Jenni’s writeup

I liked this puzzle a lot. It took me a while to grok the theme, and I had to go back and track down some of the theme answers that I’d filled in without understanding what was going on.

Each theme answer turns a corner, and the clue gives the direction of the turn.

Washington Post, 7/21/2019, Evan Birnholz, “Turn Signals,” solution grid

  • 24d [East River] turns right: WATERWAY.
  • 26a [North Americans] turns up (north): YANKEES.
  • 42a [North Star] is a PENTAGRAM.
  • 57d [West End] turns left: FINALE
  • 72d [East Coast] is SEABOARD.
  • 92d [West Point] is POSITION
  • 94a [South Bend] turns down: COMPROMISE.
  • 115a [South Side] also turns down: FACTION.

Very elegant! Each answer is the geographically correct quadrant of the puzzle and each one has a standard word before the turn. I enjoyed finding them after I’d finished the puzzle.

A few other things:

  • 25a [Garment deemed a “ludicrous invention” in “The Female Eunuch”] is a BRA. Right on, Germaine Greer.
  • 29d [Like a certain seasonal team leader] is RED-NOSED – Rudolph, of course.
  • 55a [Fails, as a bit] is FALLS FLAT. The “bit” in question is a comedy bit.
  • Obscure music clue of the day (at least obscure to me): 76d, [1988 hit by When in Rome vowing “If you wait around a while, I’ll make you fall for me”]. Apparently it’s THE PROMISE.
  • I filled in 97d from crossings and couldn’t figure out what a KRATION was. It’s K-RATION, clued as [Old war fare].

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: “When in Rome.” I also had never heard of SASHA Velour, and I have no idea who LISA and Johnny are in the “The Room.” (update: they are two of the protagonists of a 2003 film).

I leave you with “The Promise.”

Alex Vratsanos’s LA Times crossword, “Touchdown” – Jenni’s write-up

This was a slog. I didn’t understand the theme until I was almost done, and it wouldn’t have helped if I had. There were some very obscure words, starting with 1d, which you can see in the grid I had to reveal. I suppose if you were raised on the story of the Magi and knew that one of them was named CASPAR, that would have helped, but COIGN really doesn’t look like a normal word – I’ve never seen it before – and the clue [__ of vantage: favorable position] didn’t help at all.

So the theme. Did you know that yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing? Both the NYT and LAT decided to get in on the anniversary action, even if it is a day late. The revealer at 111a explains the theme: [Arrive as astronauts did 7/20/69 … and what’s literally seen in seven pairs of puzzle answers]. It is, of course, LAND ON THE MOON. Each theme clue is a planet body in the solar system and each answer is one of that planet’s body’s moons. ETA: thanks to the commenter who pointed out that the word “land” sits above each moon. This takes it from “not terrible” to “good” as far as the theme goes, and the added constraints probably explain the horrible fill, but the fill is still horrible.

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2019, “Touchdown,” Alex Vratsanos, solution trid

  • 29a [EARTH] is LUNA.
  • 34a [MARS] is DEIMOS.
  • 56a [JUPITER] is EUROPA.
  • 73a [SATURN] is TITAN.
  • 89a [URANUS] is MIRANDA.
  • 109a [NEPTUNE] is TRITON.
  • 116a [PLUTO] is CHARON.

They’re in order from closest to furthest away from the sun, although we’re missing Mercury and Venus because they don’t have moons. It’s not a terrible theme. I’m not the space geek in the family so I had to get most of them from crossings – TITAN and EUROPA were the only ones I knew. Ok, I know LUNA but I don’t usually think of it as the name of the moon; the moon is just the moon because I’m terrocentric. It’s also confusing to have the theme answers not be the longest ones in the puzzle, but the upper-case clues make that easier.

The theme isn’t terrible. The fill, on the other hand…in addition to COIGN, we have ADNOUN, clued as [“Meek,” in “Blessed are the meek”]. Wikipedia tells me that’s a “word that is usually an adjective but is being used as a noun.” In this sentence, it’s standing in for “meek people.” I am not a grammar professional, but I consider myself a fairly sophisticated amateur and I have never seen this word before, nor do I consider myself enriched by having seen it here. We also have TILLAGE for [Farmwork] and I assume I’m not the only one who put in TILLING first. Plus we have GDP DSM ESA ACS MMA RBI CALC, the nonstandard abbreviation S DAK, and [Sicily’s only landlocked province], ENNA. And has anyone under forty heard of Bob EUBANKS and “The Newlywed Game?”

A few other things:

  • 20a [Hot wings did him in] is a fun clue for ICARUS.
  • 33d [Shape, as dough] is an odd clue for BALL UP. I most often bake challah, so I braid it. I can’t think of any dough I’ve BALLed UP except for monkey bread.
  • 70d [Swiss Roll-like snack] is the iconic YODEL. Oh, THAT’S why it’s called a YODEL.
  • Raise your hand if you knew the answer to 80a [Cosmonaut Vladimir]. It’s TITOV.
  • 103a [Architect’s task] is PLAN DESIGN. Designing a plan? Planning a design? Is this a phrase that architects use?

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: COIGN and ADNOUN. I also did not know that Chuck NORRIS wrote a book. I did not need to know that Chuck NORRIS wrote a book.


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27 Responses to Sunday, July 21, 2019

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I don’t usually love anniversary puzzles, and this one has some rough spots, but it also has a lot to like, with the visual elements, and the inclusion of many iconic pieces of this event. But mostly, I feel it celebrates an awe-inspiring moment in the history of humans that was beautifully executed not only scientifically and technically but also socially. I’ve always loved the combination of planting the American flag and representing humans more broadly: “We came in peace for all mankind”.
    An exhilarating and humbling achievement.

  2. JohnH says:

    An expected anniversary puzzle, with a large amount of theme fill plus a second set (or leap), so what’s not to like? Still, I’d have liked it if LEAP were more truly giant. It’s large compared to the one-square step, but still. Maybe, which also would have add the advantage of being harder to find, if its four squares were the corner squares of the puzzle? Or maybe of the quasi-isolated center section? I also agree with Amy that COOKIE JAR looks odd there. Could have broken into, say, COOK and AJAR to avoid that, thus crossing RADAR, but that’d lose RBG.

    I know I’m overreacting, but just suggesting. I must admit that I was sure I had a mistake with IDLESSE until I gave up and confirmed that it’s in the dictionary, so no complaints. I did get hung up on BEER ME crossing MAIA, but I’ll assume the first is idiomatic somewhere outside my neck of the woods.

  3. Christopher Smith says:

    I really appreciate how the Times is trying to incorporate more soccer references into the puzzle, but as an actual MANU fan I have to say that clue is wrong on a couple of fronts. They are (regrettably) not a powerhouse these days. But also the abbreviation figures in a derogatory song a few rival fans sing about the 1958 Munich Air Disaster in which several players died.

    MANU is the call lettering for the club’s stock listing on the NYSE. (The current owners, who did the IPO, are very unpopular, which doesn’t help matters.) But “Stock listing for famous soccer team” or something like that would probably be better.

    • Mr. Grumpy says:

      Oh, good grief. They’re called ManU every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Take it up with these folks — who have probably followed the team longer than you.

  4. RunawayPancake says:

    Universal Sunday – Hey, Vic! Thanks for another great write-up. Note also that the two whole number pairs that are added together to total EIGHT are in symmetrically placed entries around the grid. NW and SE are 7+1, NE and SW are 6+2, MW and ME are 5+3, and CENTER is 4+4 (twice!).

    • RunawayPancake says:

      Correction (oops, sorry): That should be “two whole numbers”, not “two whole number pairs”. And that should be “symmetrically placed ACROSS entries”.

  5. Dook says:

    Loved today’s NY Times. Not only do we get lots of good theme answers and the step/leap, but we get a man in the moon face in the grid!!!! Five stars!

    • WhiskyBill says:

      I see and respect the “Man in the Moon” visual interpretation of the NYT grid. For me, though, it’s more like an astronaut wearing a helmet, which feels more on point.

      Anyone else get the astronaut?

    • JohnH says:

      I’m having trouble seeing it. Go figure.

  6. Lise says:

    I liked the WaPo: very clever theme and execution. I understood the direction part of the theme clues right away, but I was thrown way off by the capitalization of the second word, which I thought meant a specific star, river, etc. I finally moved on and finished the puzzle, but those capital letters still seem weird to me.

    I thought the fill was great, and appreciate what Jenni mentioned, that the first part of each theme answer is a real word. This construction took a lot of skill, and was a rewarding solve.

    • The way I think of those second capital letters is that the second word marks the beginning of each theme clue. The clue for COMPROMISE is really just [Bend], so that’s how you’d read it in the clues if “South” weren’t there. Plus I thought the second capitals would hide the trick better since they all look like proper noun-based clues.

  7. Did anyone notice in the LAT puzzle that the word LAND appears above each named MOON?

    • JML says:

      Yes, and the visual of LAND on moons made me realize how the phrase “land on the moon” is kind of oxymoronic, at least by one definition of “land”

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Clearly I did not. That elevates the theme, which I already thought was fine, but does not salvage the horrible fill.

      • M483 says:

        LAT was no fun at all. Way too many totally obscure and/or arcane entries that are not worth knowing. I never got the theme while I was doing the puzzle. I was able to fill most of the theme answers from crosses and then filling in the missing letters that would make a word. Even if I knew the theme, the DSM / Miranda crossing is unfair with 3 choices for that “m.” I don’t know why one wants to make a Sunday puzzle this difficult. They even went overboard with extra hard clues.

      • jae says:

        I’m with Jenni on this one. Tough with a clever theme but ugly fill which made it a slog. It took me a lot long than the NYT.

  8. Anne Fay says:

    In Alex Vratsanos’s LA Times crossword, “Touchdown”, today, I took exception to 19a, “Future looie, perhaps” with the answer of “noncom”. I get there was the “perhaps” in the clue, but this is really, really stretching, in my book. There is no direct path from noncom to officer, so a noncom as a future lieutenant makes no sense at all! Sure, there are retreads (prior enlisted who get commissions). Also note, civilians access straight to officer via various commissioning programs. Thus, “future looie” is much more likely to be a civilian and there is nothing about being a noncom that inherently would lead to changing over to the officer corps.

  9. *sigh*

    Today’s WaPo Magazine puzzle had a mistake in one of the clues. 121A had read: [Author Calvino born in a country that nearly matches his name] but this is incorrect. It should have said [Author Calvino raised in a country …] instead. I’ve corrected the electronic and PDF files available on the Post’s website and am trying to get the corrected .puz file up on Fiend as soon as possible.

    My sincere apologies for the error.

  10. AndyHat says:

    Not quite a recipe for moon cookies, but I was solving this puzzle while staying at a Doubletree where they’re featuring plans to bake space cookies:

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