Sunday, January 26, 2020

LAT 7:14 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:36 (Amy) 


WaPo 16:20 (Matt) 


Universal 4:12 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) tk (Rebecca) 


Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword, “Food Engineering”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 26 20, “Food Engineering”

Well, I finished the puzzle and had no idea what the theme could possibly be. Aha! There’s a note with instructions: “When this puzzle is finished, change one letter in the last word in the answer to each asterisked clue to name a food. The replacement letters, in order, will spell an appropriate phrase.” Here we go:

  • 23a. [*Looks that can be difficult to pull off], SKINNY JEANS. J to B, beans.
  • 25a. [*”It’s 2 a.m. already?!”], TIME FLIES. L to R, fries.
  • 38a. [*Data visuals similar to histograms], BAR GRAPHS. H to E, grapes.
  • 41a. [*Swimming hazards in the ocean], RIP CURRENTS. E to A, currants.
  • 64a. [*”Man, that was cheap!”], WHAT A STEAL. L to K, steak.
  • 66a. [*Holder of the single-game W.N.B.A. scoring record (53 points)], LIZ CAMBAGE. M to B, cabbage.
  • 86a. [*Diner choice], CORNER BOOTH. O to R, broth. Don’t try to eat your boots.
  • 88a. [*Something visually arresting], EYE POPPER. O to E, pepper.
  • 105a. [*Duplicate, in word processing], COPY PASTE. E to A, pasta. Copypasta, people do use that.
  • 107a. [*Disappear suddenly], UP AND VANISH. V to D, Danish.

So the meta phrase is BREAK BREAD. Apt enough.

Three quick things, because I’m on my way out the door—

  • 44a. [Crossword-loving detective on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”], AMY. Amy Santiago. I appreciate any Amy who’s into crosswords. *waves to Amy Goldstein*
  • 70a. [Lisa who “ate no basil,” in a palindrome], BONET. Cute!
  • 63d. [Spanish month that anagrams to a zodiac sign], ABRIL, to Libra. Fun to have these palindrome and anagram angles in the clues. Erik does excel at writing interesting clues with unexpected angles to them.

Fill is solid, with bright spots like GRAMMAR POLICE, SUCCINCT, timely PRIMARY DEBATE, and “IT CAN’T BE!” 3.75 stars from me, probably not higher because the NYT’s inability to clearly signal “there’s something extra here, when 95% of the time there isn’t anything else to look for” in the .puz format is annoying. They couldn’t add “(see note)” to the puzzle’s title?

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post Sunday Puzzle — Matt’s review

Matt here subbing in for Jim Q, who is herding reindeer in Finland this weekend (not true, as far as I know).

Evan gives us all a wage hike this weekend, assuming you’re paid in one of four national currencies. Each currency’s name is concealed within a larger phrase, and jumps up into the grid at the appropriate moment (get it? “wage hike”?) before ducking back down again. They are:

26a. [*Occasion to honor the recently deceased] = MEMO-RIAL-SERVICE, with an Omani RIAL poking its head out up top.

58a. [*Frizzy-leafed vegetable] = CURL-YEN-DIVE, with a Japanese YEN above the rest. That’s a “curly endive,” a vegetable whose existence I do not doubt despite never having knowingly come into contact with it. Kind of a trickY ENtry.

79a. [*Spray dispensers] = AERO-SOL-CANS, with a Peruvian SOL up top.

111a. [*Philosopher who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950] = BERT-RAND-RUSSELL, with a South African RAND sticking out.

In addition to the asterisks on theme clues, Evan also politely gave the solver the relevant countries’ names in the grid: OMAN, JAPAN, PERU, and SOUTH AFRICA, each pointing to the relevant Wage Hike. Japan = Yen and South Africa = Rand were obvious, but I’m not sure I would’ve known that Oman = rial and Peru = sol without the hint, so smart move to include it for a 100% solver click.

Fun clues/entries:

39a. [Rule broken by neighbors?] = IBEFOREE. I thought Evan had lost his mind for a minute there! Some crazy letter combination action happening, then suddenly had the “aha!” and all was well — that’s “I before E.”

46a. [Job done on one’s hands and feet] = MANIPEDI. Tricky! I had the terminal I early and then thought I was looking for an Italian or maybe Japanese word, but no. Especially tricky since it crosses…

10d. [Brings home, as Twins] = DRIVES IN. You know, when I’m cluing a puzzle I always avoid clues like this where the trick is tipped off by a capitalized letter like the T in “Twins” here, which tells you you’re not dealing with just normal twins. But then when I encounter one in the wild as a solver, I’m fooled about 75% of the time (as I was here) because I just don’t notice the capitalization. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em I guess, so look for tricks similar to this in my puzzles in the near future.

4.20 stars. Above-average rendition of the theme-entries-go-somewhere-unexpected idea since “wage hike” is such a nice justification for it and the grid and clues are smarter-than-the-average-bear as well. Evan continues to make himself a worthy successor to Merl at the Washington Post!

Val Melius’s Universal crossword, “Private Security”—Jim Q’s review

This appears to be a debut for Val, so congratulations!

Unfortunately, it’s a circle-dependent theme- a type which Universal LOVES to run even though it cannot figure out how to employ circles in its grids, thereby confusing and turning off many novice and casual solvers who are unlikely to visit this site and download the Across Lite version (I’ve seen it).

Not at all Val’s fault for an otherwise great puzzle.

THEME: Security personnel is hidden within common phrases.


  • 16A [Gilbert and Sullivan genre] COMIC OPERA.

    Universal crossword solution · Vel Melius · “Private Security” · Sun., 01.26.20

  • 23A [High-tech lock system] KEYLESS ENTRY. And don’t worry! If the thief manages to get past your KEYLESS ENTRY, the SENTRY is there to take care of things!
  • 44A [F-Type auto seller] JAGUAR DEALER. I think I’m just seeing this clue for the first time… JAGUAR DEALER doesn’t strike me as an in-language phrase, but whatever.
  • 54A [Old-fashioned garnish?] ORANGE RIND. Is the ? in the clue necessary?

A nice set and a clean grid all around. Very smooth and enjoyable. Fave fill: BOO YA! STARSHIP, SCARE OFF, and ALL NIGHTER. LION TAMERS was good, but odd to me as a plural. Like, do they all hang out together? I thought a circus usually had only one. Haha! It’s a funny visual.

Of course, Val’s work is undercut by Universal’s unwillingness to catch up with every other major publication who is able to use circles and enhance the visual element. That’s a shame.

4 Stars with circles.

1.5 Stars without.



Blake Slonecker’s LA Times crossword, “Em Dash” – Jenni’s write-up

All the theme answers have “em” removed. Results are mixed.

Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2020, Blake Slonecker, “Em Dash,” solution grid

  • 23a [Tales of woe?] are AIL ACCOUNTS (email accounts).
  • 25a [Piggy bank?] is a CENT MIXER (cement mixer).
  • 39a [Leave politics to wander?] is ROVE FROM OFFICE (remove from office). {Impeachment-related rant redacted}
  • 48a [App for getting a hip escort?] is DIALUP MOD (dial-up modem). Dial? Who dials an app?
  • 67a [Precipitation not yet visible?] is RAINS TO BE SEEN (remains to be seen). Really liked this one.
  • 85a [Mafia hopefuls’ repressed personas?] are INNER DONS (inner demons). Also really liked this one.
  • 92a [Musty sheets?] are OFFENSIVE LINEN (offensive linemen).
  • 108a [Libertine on screen?] is a MOVIE RAKE (movie remake). The base phrase on this one is a roll-your-own.
  • 111a [Musical works for deep voices?] are BASSY SUITES (Embassy Suites). No one says “bassy” unless you’re talking about Shirley, and that’s spelled differently. Just, no.

I like the theme idea. The last two entries are pretty weak.

A few other things:

  • RSVPD is an unpleasant way to start the puzzle. Marginal fill bothers me more at 1a than elsewhere in the puzzle.
  • Hands up if you started with LUSH for 16d, [Swanky], instead of LUXE.
  • Nice to see AUDRE Lord make an appearance.
  • I would be perfectly happy if IDEATE and ETAIL never again showed up in a puzzle.
  • 60d [Spanish New Year] is ANO NUEVO. This is also the name of a California State Park where you can see (and hear, and smell) elephant seals on the beach. Worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that UNICEF won a Nobel Peace Prize and that ASTERIX was set in Gaul in 50 BC. It would be nice if the NYT acknowledged that “BC” is Christian-centric and that most of the world’s population isn’t Christian and started using BCE (before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of AD. It would be nice.

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8 Responses to Sunday, January 26, 2020

  1. Ethan says:

    NYT: Unless I’m missing something major, I’m afraid I can’t agree that the meta was “apt enough.” The mere fact that BREAK BREAD is a food-related phrase wasn’t sufficient for me to tie a nice bow on this puzzle. After all, there are lots of phrases are food-related. The theme doesn’t really have anything to do with the phrase either on an idiomatic level (how does what the solver is doing connote the idea of breaking bread, which is sharing a meal with another person?) or on a literal level (replacing letters isn’t “breaking” anything, only one or two of the foods involved were made of “bread”).

    Also, 70D was a big “huh?” for me. Never seen anything with that spelling, have no idea how you would pronounce it. BLECH, sure. I thought maybe FLCSH crossing it was an abbr. for a virus that causes red eyes.

    • Martin says:

      “Bread” is a metaphor for food. (“Give us this day our daily bread.”) And each food was “broken” in that it was misspelled. Maybe I’m too easily pleased, but this one seemed pretty obvious.

      • JohnH says:

        Thanks for that. I didn’t think of “broken” as meaning the food was misspelled. (In fact, I didn’t think of it as misspelled at all, just in need of the letter shift.) And absolutely I might have found the puzzle a tad tighter if there were a closer connection to the working of the grid itself in, say, some anagrams of food or of “bread.” It could just be that it felt like a meta, a step after and apart, and I’m not often fond of those. It also felt too easy for a Sunday.

        Still, I liked the puzzle. I can’t quite explain why, but I enjoyed the fill, learned something here and there, and even found in the end that I needed the theme to complete the fill after all, since I otherwise didn’t know the crossing of RAE and a longer proper name.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I picked up BLEAH from the “Peanuts” comic strip. (If you do a Google image search for the word, you’ll see ample evidence.) I had some college friends who pronounced it “blee” rather than a drawn-out “blah/blech” blend.

    • Beth says:

      NYT: apt enough since change a letter in break to make a food. Break bread.

  2. Will says:

    Both NYT and Wapo had RAND in them. I learned it from the times and got to use it right after on the post.

    I recently got a copy of Agard’s Food for Thought collection and couldn’t help but wonder if this was a puzzle he submitted back when he was working on the book or if it was an idea he hadn’t fully fleshed out from that time. Or, he could just like food and puns like the rest of us.

  3. Margaret says:

    Yep, I filled in LUSH before LUXE in the LAT. And this may be a tired complaint but the duplication of UP in the LAT (STOPUP, ATEUP, EVENSUP) bothered me.

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