Sunday, January 5, 2020

LAT 9:02 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:47 (Amy) 


WaPo 11:57 (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:21 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) tk (Rebecca 


Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword, “Stressed Out”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 5 20, “Stressed Out”

The “Stressed Out” theme hinges on changes in which syllable is stressed, changing the usual pronunciation of a familiar phrase to change the meaning:

  • 23a. [“We can’t hear you in the back, Johannes!”?], “PROJECT, GUTENBERG!” Cute!
  • 38a. [Put on a production of a classic Sondheim musical?], PRESENT COMPANY.
  • 47a. [What composers do when they add the finishing touches?], PERFECT SCORES.
  • 66a. [What workers at the sticker factory do?]. PRODUCE LABELS.
  • 86a. [Shorten words like “forecastle” and “boatswain”?], CONTRACT TERMS.
  • 94a. [Ignore what you have in reserve while taking inventory?], DISCOUNT STORES. Merriam-Webster offers two pronunciations for the verb, so some of us probably pronounce the verb with the stress on DIS.
  • 111a. [Encouragement at an N.B.A. mixer?], “CONVERSE, ALL-STARS!” Riffing on the sneakers. Cute!

English is such an oddball and interesting language, isn’t it? Do other languages offer extra pronunciations for various meanings of words that are spelled and derived the same?

Will’s a terrific constructor, so we get a lot of good fill here. I liked seeing MAHALIA Jackson, UPSHOT, POOL TOY, FANNED OUT, GET THE NOD, GIRL SCOUT, and ACRONYMS. I don’t recall hitting any fill that would trigger the ol’ Scowl-o-Meter. In a 21×21 grid, there’s usually some crap fill, but this one played fair.

Five more things:

  • 13d. [Samoa salesperson], GIRL SCOUT. Great clue, because my mind first went to the Pacific island nation rather than cookies.
  • 66d. [Noodle, for example], POOL TOY. Were there any wrong guesses for this one? What 7-letter noodle words are there in the  culinary world?
  • 100a. [Underground places with bats], DUGOUTS. Ha! I was absolutely thinking of winged bats in caves and not baseball bats.
  • 115a. [Irish novelist O’Brien], EDNA. I haven’t read her work but enjoyed the recent New Yorker profile of O’Brien.
  • 18d. [Nascar and FIFA, e.g.], ACRONYMS. I was trying to think of a term for “sports leagues” that would fit the space.

Four stars from me. And by the way, Will N. edits the Spyscape crossword. Spec sheet available here (in the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory group on Facebook, which is aimed at diversifying the ranks of constructors and offering mentoring to women, people of color, etc.). Will notes, “Just a reminder that the weekly Spyscape crossword, which I edit, encourages submissions from constructors belonging to underrepresented groups!”

David Kwong’s LA Times crossword, “Initial Offerings” – Jenni’s write-up

David Kwong is the cruciverbalist and magician whose one-man show “The Enigmatist” sounds like great fun – I haven’t seen it. I really wanted to like this puzzle. I did not.

Unless I’m missing something, the whole deal with the theme is that each three-word theme answer contains its initials in sequence. Two of the phrases are commonly referred to by their initials. The rest are not, at least not that I know of. It’s a thin concept to build a theme around and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun to solve. There are circles to show us the relevant letter string.

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, January 5, 2020, David Kwong, “Initial Offerings,” solution grid

  • 23a [When the Commodore 64 computer was released] was NINETEEN EIGHTYTWO. I graduated college in 1982, and that’s how we write it – with numerals, not letters. And no one abbreviates it to NET. At first I thought maybe the Commodore was the first internet computer, but then I remembered 1982. No.
  • 30a [World capital since 1931] is NEW DELHIINDIA.
  • 52a [1982 Physical Tour singer] is OLIVIA NEWTONJOHN. Again with 1982. I think I need to go dig out my jellies and my AquaNet.
  • 67a [“Excuse me … “] is PARDON THE INTERRUPTIONPTI is a show on ESPN.
  • 85a [What a shutout lowers] is the EARNED RUN AVERAGE, which is commonly referred to as the ERA.
  • 104a [Capital near Siena College] is ALBANYNEW YORK.
  • 116a [Highest grossing movie of 1980, with “The”] is EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I guess it’s possible that members of the Star Wars fandom use initials to refer to the movies. I’m generally not a fan of theme answers that require “with ‘The’ ” in the clue.

So that’s the theme. It’s decidedly meh.

A few other things:

  • 25d [Beachwear for the immodest] is THONG. Gee, thanks for serving me a crossword with a side of misogynist judgment. Immodest? Seriously? I get enough side-eye for the way my kid dresses in the real world. I don’t need it in crossworld. For the record, I haven’t chosen her clothes since she was three years old, I don’t have a problem with the way she dresses, and “modesty” is a nasty patriarchal concept that should die a terrible death. Why? Because it suggests that my kid is somehow responsible for the behavior of the creepy and inappropriate men she runs into. She was recently approached by a creepy dude who was near my age, and I know that because I WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE. Along with her father. And she was wearing jeans and a sweater. So just shut up about modesty.
  • 31d [Lowest multiple of CLI that fits in this space] is 31d. Lowest multiple of CLI that fits in this space] is DCIV. That clue could have read “figure out the Roman numerals from crossings” and it would have been just as helpful to me.
  • Names clued as male that could be clued as female: MANN.
  • I first read [O.T. queen] as “off-topic.” Perhaps it’s time to step away from the Internet. The answer is ESTH, which is not great.
  • Fun facts about despots: 82d [World leader who’s a judo black belt] is PUTIN.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Paul ANKA sang “Lonely Boy,” that’s there’s a national Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in TAIPEI, and that Hauskatze is German for cat.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Special Menu” (republication) – Jim Q’s writeup

After 213 consecutive fresh weekly offerings, the note on today’s puzzle tells us that Evan is on a brief respite. So we get a re-run today, which is still likely to be a new puzzle for many solvers (me included!).

THEME: Phrases that include food items reimagined as if they’re recipes


  • Washington Post, January 5, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Special Menu” solution grid

    23A [*Lettuce mixed with speech and topped with verbs and spices] WORD SALAD. 

  • 25A [*Chewy fruit dish with a charcoal flavor] CARBON DATES. 
  • 33A [*Bridal bread basket with champagne-flavored jam] WEDDING TOAST. 
  • 49A [*Gumbo seasoned with amino acids and ancient organic compounds] PRIMORDIAL SOUP. 
  • 71A [*Poultry dish baked with steel coils] SPRING CHICKEN. 
  • 88A [*Tortilla roll filled with every ingredient you can possibly imagine] WHOLE ENCHILADA. 
  • 109A [*Fish dish served with sacred ingredients] HOLY MACKEREL. 
  • 118A [*Starchy side stuffed with lost pennies and upholstery fabric] COUCH POTATO. 
  • 122A [*Baked dessert with a modest yet fruity flavor] HUMBLE PIE. 

A quick search of our humble site didn’t turn up any review of this puzzle. So it appears that it’s new for us too! I certainly don’t remember solving it…

Anyway, it’s a fun theme that’s presented fairly consistently (sometimes the meaning of the food changes from the base phrase meaning, like DATES or TOAST). I like the two word phrases, and I enjoyed figuring out one of those two words without any crosses and letting the other half reveal itself.

It did feel heavy on names. I don’t know if I’m imagining this or not, but it feels as though both the fill and clues are a little more stiff than usual. Perhaps evolution after four years of constructing 21x puzzles on a weekly basis? Or am I coming at it with a bias knowing that it’s an older puzzle?

Nothing much else to say here! Back to work for me tomorrow… and the pile of papers I was supposed to grade over the last two weeks hasn’t gotten any shorter. Enjoy your Sunday!



David Steinberg’s Universal crossword, “Ink Spots”—Jim Q’s review

Seven theme answers in this!

THEME: Three pairs of classic “tattoos” are hidden in common words/phrases.


  • 17A [*In a sullen way] MOROSELY. 

    Universal crossword solution · David Steinberg · “Ink Spots” · Sun., 01.05.20

  • 21A [**2011 silent film that won Best Picture] THE ARTIST. 
  • 25A [***Nonvegetarian egg dish] HAM OMELET. 
  • 46A [***Dealer’s wheels, perhaps] DEMO MODEL. 
  • 54A [**Gossip’s opener] I HEAR THAT…
  • 60A [*Lantern fuel] KEROSENE. 
  • 35A [Body art for some couples, or what each pair of starred answers sports?] MATCHING TATTOOS. 

I didn’t see the theme until after I filled the grid, so I solved this as a themeless essentially. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard… those tattoos are pretty well hidden! Especially without circled letters as a crutch!

Even with all that theme, the word count is relatively low at 74, and there’s still some exciting fill like BEAT POET, TEASER AD, COME AT ME, and POLITICO. 

The clue for 26D [20 in a school zone, say: Abbr.] felt very off to me. Is the answer MPH a viable substitute for the clue? 20 MPH is the speed limit, yes. But “20 in a school zone” can’t really be replaced with MPH imo. I dunno. Just weird to me.

New to me were LIDO, ULTRON, BAYH (name rings a bell, but heck if I knew the spelling)  and T TEST. And there’s a bit of sacrifice in the fill with things like IS SO, SHO, and ALL’S … but nothing egregious.

3.4 stars.  


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14 Responses to Sunday, January 5, 2020

  1. JohnH says:

    I’m having trouble with “encouragement” for CONVERSE. Help?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Exhortation, encouragement to do something. In this case, “hey, All-Stars: why don’t you chat?”

      • JohnH says:

        Thanks. I think of “converse” or “chat” as just “to talk informally” (to quote “converse” in RHUD), with no exhortation required. But if that’s what people say, great.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          Right, but it doesn’t work with the theme unless it’s presented as a command to a group of All-Stars. “Converse, All-Stars!”

          • Stephen B. Manion says:

            If you you are over 60 and played sports when you were younger, there is an overwhelming likelihood that you wore Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.

            Converse dropped out of the basketball athletic shoe for professional players with the advent of Nike and the Michael Jordan brand among others. Now, Converse is making a comeback:


            I doubt that there are many salespersons anywhere who were as great at there salesmanship as Chuck Taylor.


  2. roger says:

    I’m not a regular here, post once in a while something I think is funny but mainly just am interested in what others think.

    But I have become increasingly dismayed by the boring, tedious nature of the Sunday puzzle themes. It used to be much more fun (and funny), not just the pronunciation of a word or the insertion of a letter. Lately, I’ve found myself just stopping as soon as I get the first two theme answers, saying to myself, “Is that it? Is it really worth the time to slog through this for what might be one or two intriguing fills?”

    I’m not a constructor (tried once but failed) and truly admire what some people can put together. But when I read the Sunday themes of other publications, they seem a lot more enjoyable than the ones in the Times. Writing in the answers (not using an app on a phone or some other screen) used to be one of the joys of Sunday morning as well as in the paper during the week.

    Just curious. Do others feel this way or is it just grouchy me?


    • Jim Q says:

      Perhaps try another Sunday puzzle that isn’t NYT? I don’t necessarily look forward to solving the Sunday NYT much anymore, but I do look forward to Evan’s WaPo puzzles- they’re frequently entertaining and rarely boring. LAT themes are typically more over-the-plate wordplay, if you’d prefer that.

      • Billy Boy says:

        I’m of the opinion that the quality and interest-holding ability for me is diminished by the length and format of 21×21 (WSJ inclusion) theme entries and what they spawn.

        That’s my opinion, I don’t know how much we overlap. I tend not to do them with regularity as there are a ton of puzzles to do already.

        Today’s ratings qualify as ‘not so hot’.

        • roger says:

          To all who answered, many thanks.

          But it is the hard copy, the real newspaper, that gives pleasure, not some bit of technology spewed out of the internet or a printer.

  3. Mary A says:

    89 Across in the Sunday NYT puzzle clue: “Equal.” I filled in “are,” the correct answer, and “get” the clue, sort of. But I’d like someone to explain with precision how “equal” equals “are.”

    Thank you.

  4. Joan Macon says:

    Amy, when I was teaching kindergarten and first grade kids, many of whom were second language learners, I used to say frequently,”English is a strange and wonderful language.” As I do crossword puzzles now, I am more sure than ever that this is true!

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