Sunday, September 1, 2019

LAT 8:59 (Jenni) 


NYT 10:27 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed- on phone (Jim Q) 


Universal 3:34 (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) tk (Vic) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “A House Divided” – Jim Q’s writeup

Constant WaPo solvers may remember a relatively recent “house themed” puzzle back in April this year and another in January (both very clever and memorable). Before you start wondering if Evan’s true calling was residential architecture rather than crossword construction, it’s worth noting that this week’s Washington Post Magazine is an issue that’s dedicated to the divisive nature of CONGRESS. And also… it’s still a damn clever puzzle. That being said, if you ever want to know about different types of houses, I’m sure Evan has researched them all. Send him an e-mail.

THEME: Types of houses are literally “divided,” and the letters that divide them spell out the revealer.

Washington Post, September 1, 2019, Evan Birnholz, “A House Divided” solution grid


  • 21A [Like flowers recently placed in a vase] FRESH CUTHut. C.
  • 25A [Avoid making a hurtful comment, say] BITE YOUR TONGUEYurt. O. Nice to see “YOUR” instead of “ONE’S.” I never quite understood why puzzles typically insist on the latter pronoun instead of the commonly accepted vernacular. I suppose it uses letters that are more cross-friendly?
  • 35A [Escaping] BREAKING LOOSEIgloo. N.
  • 55A [Process of separating genetic material into pieces] DNA FRAGMENTATIONA-Frame. G.
  • 67A [“Complicated” singer] AVRIL LAVIGNEVilla. R.
  • 81A [Criminal offense often considered less serious than a felony] GROSS MISDEMEANOR.  Manor. E.
  • 98A [Has any hope of succeeding] STANDS A CHANCEDacha. S.
  • 114A [St. Olaf College, e.g.] LUTHERAN SCHOOLRanch. S.
  • 122A [Body with a divided House … and what’s spelled out by the letters dividing this puzzle’s houses] CONGRESS

Birnholizian for sure. Which is to say it’s brilliant. The WaPo, in my opinion, is the most clever and enjoyable Sunday-sized puzzle out there. It’s easy to say this is a “typical” WaPo puzzle… because it is. As a constant solver, I fully expect a multi-layered accessible puzzle with clean, interesting fill that is freshly clued. It’s typical WaPo. I hope solvers can appreciate that it’s not typical anywhere else though.

I think a lot of publishers would be happy enough with the theme “A House Divided” without the extra layer of burying the word CONGRESS in the divisions themselves. That extra layer and constraint which Evan puts on himself is what makes the WaPo unique. It’s a lot to ask: Find common phrases that include types of houses that are separated by specific letters. I can’t imagine the amount of time that must be spent on in order to come up with symmetrically passable answers. Yet he makes it look easy. LUTHERAN SCHOOL may be a bit “green-paint”ish, and DNA FRAGMENTATION is not something I discuss on a regular basis, but even those were a joy to uncover with some inferencing. In fact, guessing DNA FRAGMENTATION with ???FR?G?M??TA?ION allowed me to pat myself on the back. And who doesn’t like those moments?


  • 14A [Reaction to seeing a crack on one’s phone?] LOL. That moment when the answer produces itself.
  • 19A [Cardinal point?] ARIZONA. The football team, that is.
  • 42A [Those who barely move around all day?] NUDISTS. Perhaps the “all day”

    At the world’s poshest DIVE BAR.

    part is a bit much. I hope they get a chance to loll a bit too as the clue suggests! Great clue though.

  • 55A [Dilapidated place full of rusty nails?] DIVE BAR. Okay. I like it, though it may fall in the category of “too cute.” A rusty nail is a mixed drink with equal parts scotch and Drambuie. When I think of a dive bar, I don’t imagine this drink. Even if I did, it’s a bit much to think of said bar as being “full” of them. I can almost imagine the bartender of a dive Googling the recipe on his/her phone before searching in the bowels of the stored liquor to see if a bottle of Drambuie exists (“There it is! Right next to the Galliano!”) Pabst Blue Ribbon, maybe. This is a clue that needed a “, maybe,” maybe.


“Spell my name correctly… or else.”

  • 1D [Wireless communication device] BEEPER. Too soon to add “of yore” to this clue?
  • 17A [4 p.m. ritual, often] TEA TIME. Just came back from a long tour of the U.K. Clue is accurate.
  • 29D [“Better Call Saul” drug kingpin Gus] FRING. Am I the only person who totally knew this, yet had no clue there was a “G” in his name?

Good stuff. Typically fantastic.


  • 33A [“Angry Video Game ___” (web series featuring a profane game reviewer)] NERD. (NSFW)

And if you ever want to question your sanity, please listen to all nine minutes of this, as I did while typing up the theme clues:

Finn Vigeland’s New York Times crossword, “That’s A Tall Order”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 1 19, “That’s a Tall Order!”

The theme elements display differently depending on the solving format. The web version has shaded squares; the .puz version depicted here has circled squares; and the newspaper version has conjoined squares forming rectangles. Basically, fill those spaces with tall letters, and those “tall” spaces spell out commands (“orders”) you might give to a dog: HEEL, SIT, STAY, COME. The long Across answers (otherwise unrelated) share those letter sequences, so their Down crossings just need one tall letter rather than the doubled letters seen in my grid.

So it sort of plays like an oversized Thursday gimmick, with 30 thematic squares dropped in a big ol’ 21×21 grid. What do we have to make the rest of it pay off as a themeless? COLOR WHEELS, MIC CHECK, the COMOROS, an appreciated BOOK REC(ommendation), KEEPS IT REAL, HIT JOBS, sportsy A.P. POLLS, JAMES TAYLOR, SEX COMEDIES, JALISCO MEXICO, a CAT CAFE, K-POP, JAM-PACK, AMY RYAN, an OLD SCORE to settle, IRON MAN, and BAKED BEANS. Not sure that these are enough to offset the smallness of the theme. (And yes, I know a theme with six themers of 11 to 13 letters isn’t all that slight, but when it’s the short crossers that actually need thinking in the .puz format, it ends up feeling slim.)

Did not know: 16d. [Program starting with the fifth year of college, informally], POSTBAC. Short for postbaccalaureate, and on Twitter Finn cited the example of a college grad taking a year for science prereqs needed to apply to med school. I’ve heard of postdocs, but never this term. Also unknown: 100d. [Cleaning for military inspection], GIING. Also also unknown: 97a. [Protein in Wheaties], GLUTENIN.

Five more things:

  • 66a. [Looked at lasciviously], EYED UP. Feels incomplete without and down.
  • 45d. [Flow of one line of a verse to the next without pause], ENJAMBMENT. Ah! English-major vocabulary. Here are some examples; scroll down for famous poem excerpts.
  • 33a. [___ Min Lee, victim in the podcast “Serial”], HAE. I think this is the first time I’ve seen HAE clued as something other than the Scottish verb. Nice change-up! I don’t do podcasts, though—find me some people with moderate hearing loss who willingly seek out podcasts and I’ll be surprised. (I loathe the explosion of podcasts just as much as the media’s “pivot to video” without first figuring out how they’d provide reliably accurate captioning.)
  • 76a. [“Pencils down!”], “TIME!” What’s your first thought for the context in which someone shouts, “Time!” or “Your time is up”? School test? Crossword tournament? Or The Great British Baking Show? Big thanks to Stella Zawistowski for the heads-up that a new season (“collection 7”) has just come to Netflix. I reckon I will watch episode 1 tonight. Raise your hand if you’ve taken to critiquing the baked goods you encounter, checking pastry for a soggy bottom and saying “a shame about the bake.”
  • 62d. [Bygone military punishment], KP DUTY. See that “bygone” in the clue? And yet somehow so many crossword clues for KPS give no hint at all that this isn’t a thing anymore in the U.S. military.

3.25 stars from me.

Doug Peterson’s Universal crossword, “Oh, Bother!”—Jim Q’s review

Took me a solid minute or two of staring at the finished grid before I saw the theme, which (appropriately) ate at me.

THEME: Synonyms for “bother” (as a verb) start common phrases.

Universal crossword solution · Doug Peterson · “Oh, Bother!” · Sun., 9.01.19


  • 17A [Hobby involving thread and patterns] NEEDLE POINT. 
  • 28A [Alternative to mass transit] RIDE SHARING. 
  • 47A [One Direction member with the solo hit “Sign of the Times”] HARRY STYLES. 
  • 63A [Wisconsin nickname, with “the”] BADGER STATE. 

I doubt the connection between the theme answers would be solid without the title, which is why I often like titled crosswords. But I still would’ve appreciated a revealer like NAG or something in that southeast corner. Yes, NEEDLE, RIDE, HARRY, and BADGER are all perfect synonyms of “bother,” but since most of those parts of the answers have other, more common definitions, it was hard for me to see the relationship between them. Of course, looking at it now in retrospect it’s completely obvious.

QUIDDITCH (just started the Harry Potter series finally!) and HAIR METAL made for fun fill.

For some reason I just assumed the clue was asking for XII when it asked for a sundial opposite at 8D. Turns out OLIXIA is not a common name. Found my error when Mr. Happy Pencil didn’t greet me at the end.

3 stars from me.


Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword, “Wide-Screen Display” – Jenni’s write-up

This is not my favorite kind of theme. There’s no wordplay, and the theme answers aren’t particularly entertaining. They all have one thing in common.

Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2019, Gail Grabowski, “Wide-Screen Display,” solution grid

  • 27a [Aircraft carrier storage area] is a HANGAR DECK. Can’t say I was familiar with that phrase, although its meaning is obvious.
  • 29a [Performer using hand motions] is a HULA DANCER.
  • 37d [Real go-getter] is a HUMAN DYNAMO.
  • 41d [Nutritionist’s recommendation] is a HEALTHY DIET. {rant about the idiocy that often passes for “healthy diet” recommendations deleted}
  • 49a [Just okay] is HALFWAY DECENT. Also my opinion about the theme.
  • 67a [Interior designer’s concern] is HOME DECOR.
  • 85a [“ER,” for one] is a HOSPITAL DRAMA. Alternate clue: [Type of television show that Jenni never watches].
  • 104a [Pointer, e.g.] is a HUNTING DOG.
  • 109a [Certain downpour downside] is HAIL DAMAGE.

Figured it out? If not, check out 126a: [How most TV shows air, and a hint to nine puzzle answers], IN HD. It’s a solid, adequate theme that I did not really enjoy solving.

A few other things:

  • 11d [“Hey, bro”] is YO, DUDE, not YO DAWG, which was my first entry.
  • 20a [Portmanteau breakfast brand] is MAYPO. Maple + oatmeal = retro breakfast.
  • 23a [Trendy farewell] is, apparently, CIAO. Trendy? Is that what the kids are saying today?
  • 81a [Grumpy companion?] is a cute clue for DOC.
  • 91d [Raid product] is an ANT TRAP. Terro Ant Killer is a trade name for a borax-based ant bait. Very effective and non-toxic to people and animals. Highly recommended.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Abe Vigoda played SAL in “The Godfather.”

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16 Responses to Sunday, September 1, 2019

  1. Martin says:

    KP is not normally a punishment today, and the detailing of junior personnel to food-prep is less common today than in the past, but the only references I’ve found to its being an obsolete concept is in crossword criticism.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      So did you not test-solve this puzzle and insist that “bygone” doesn’t belong in the clue, Martin? I mean—you say you’ve *only* seen it called obsolete by crossword reviewers, AND YET THERE’S THE NYT CLUE.

      • Martin says:

        No reason to shout. KP is bygone as a punishment but not as a thing.

        • Martin says:

          BTW, I don’t wish to imply that Fiend reviewers or commenters are more likely to state that there’s no KP in the modern armed forces. It’s precisely because it’s posted on every xword site that I find it interesting. Perhaps someone noted that “punishment” clues are obsolete and it was “heard” as KP is obsolete. But it can now be counted on to pop up every time.

          It’s just a commentary on a mildly interesting social-media phenomenon.

          Sorry about my spotty response timing. I’m still recovering from some oral surgery and have been taking naps whenever my fatigue/pain quotient allows. I was prescribed an opioid but I think not.

  2. Emma says:

    I found the Hae Min Lee clue in the NYT upsetting and jarring. “Victim in the podcast Serial” minimises that she was a real person, a real murder victim, with real loved ones.

    • Cheeseguy says:

      Agree 100%. Hae clue is completely unacceptable. Why would anyone think this was okay?

      • Billy Boy says:

        If ‘victim’ or the police-ism VIC is unacceptable, what/how should the clue be worded? I’ve seen a number of complaints on blogs about this, but no alt/suggestions. What word?


        a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
        “victims of domestic violence” · [more]
        sufferer · injured party · casualty · injured person · wounded person · dead person · fatality · loss · loser
        a person who is tricked or duped.
        “the victim of a hoax”
        dupe · easy target · easy prey · fair game · sitting target · everybody’s fool · stooge · gull · fool · Aunt Sally · target · prey · quarry · object · subject · recipient · focus · sitting duck · [more]
        a living creature killed as a religious sacrifice.
        “sacrificial victims for the ritual festivals”
        sacrifice · offering · burnt offering · scapegoat

        I doubt any of these would go over any better.
        Don’t shoot me, I am only playing the proverbial piano.

        Aside: I thought this puzzle was a mess in so many ways, some of the crossing obscurity was worse than any app solving problems. All sorts of people, not just elite solvers) do the Sunday NYT, it’s supposed to be iconic. So … just another example of why the big grids fail for me too often, but that’s just me.

        • Ethan says:

          It’s not the use of the word ‘victim’ that is objectionable per se, but using Hae Min Lee as crossword trivia at all is in poor taste. On top of that, the clue implies that Hae Min is simply a pop culture character rather than a real-life victim of an actual, horrible crime.

          Like Emma, I was stunned that the reviewer not only thought this was OK, but actually praised the clue.

          • Billy Boy says:

            I just think sometimes the level of outrage seems inflated over guns, women’s issues and sometimes it seems over “Whatever”.

            I’m certainly not trolling anyone, but one wonders if say Charles Manson or Sharon Tate vis a vis the current Tarantino Film is Taboo?

            Is Tarantino taboo?

            I worked as an orthopedic trauma surgeon once, so maybe my skin is thick?

  3. JohnH says:

    The trouble for me with the NYT was that I could see from just glancing at the empty grid what the trick was: some letters take two squares, and so some across clues share them. But then solving was no longer a game, just an unusually long themeless, with too many entries that felt obscure.

    I didn’t know HAE, BASTAYA, GIIING, AMY RYAN, COMOROS, and a few others, and I’ll just have to take on faith that people these days use WOO like that or say BOOK REC and POST-BAC (crossings). Well, ok, but it grew tedious without more to build toward.

    I remembered to glance back at the theme letters for a small aha, but only well after I was done. Maybe it worked better for puz solvers, who had to make sense of the paired circled clusters.

    • David L says:

      Same here with HAE, BASTAYA and GIING. It took me a while to suss out that MOW/WOW/WOO bit in the middle, but the NE corner was the toughest area. Forgot about CHICAGO, wasn’t sure what kind of LEVEL was implied, and the BOOKREC/POSTBAC crossing was awkward but seemed like the only plausible possibility.

  4. MattF says:

    With respect to the ‘rusty nail’ clue in the WaPo… any conventional mixed drink is generally fine, even in a dive. The specific object one never finds in a dive bar is a blender, and anyone who orders a blender drink will be regarded with suspicion. Forever.

  5. Thanks, Jim. I’m touched by the compliments.

    Sitting through all nine minutes of that bottomless “Our House” abyss is …. a choice, but I applaud you all the same for it.

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