Sunday, March 22, 2020

LAT 8:30 (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WaPo 22:03 (Jim Q) 


Universal 3:15 (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) 10:00 (Jim Q) 


Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword, “Bring Your ‘A’ Game”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 22 20, “Bring Your ‘A’ Game”

The theme is made-up phrases containing a word that starts with a schwa-ish sort of A sound paired with an “A ___” phrase that sounds like that word. The “A ___” bit is sometimes first and sometimes last in the themer:

  • 23a. [What the church’s music director wanted to do?], ACQUIRE A CHOIR.
  • 32a. [Truism about unwanted sound?], A NOISE ANNOYS. Indeed.
  • 50a. [Greatly dismay one of the Beatles?], APPALL A PAUL. Not keen on this one, which sort of suggests that the Beatles includes more than one Paul. Maybe [Greatly dismay McCartney, Reubens, or Simon?] would work better.
  • 65a. [Times when your archenemy shows up?], A RIVAL’S ARRIVALS. “Here she comes again, dang it.”
  • 81a. [What the antigovernment activist does?], ATTACKS A TAX.
  • 96a. [“Aye” or “Oui”?], A VOWEL AVOWAL. This one’s really neat, innit?
  • 111a. [Geronimo, when his beard was just coming in?], A PATCHY APACHE.

I like the theme pretty well.

There was perhaps more weird fill than one would hope. Got off to a bad start with the first two Downs being plural abbrev PTAS and semi-awkward ABC TV, with row 2 offering the unfamiliar BLUECAP clued as [Another name for the cornflower] (and the bloom’s Wiki page offers: “Other names include bluebottle, bluecup, blue blob, blue bonnet, cornbottle, boutonierre flower, hurtsickle, and gogglebuster.” So many amazing aliases in there, but no BLUECAP!) followed by obscure PENTODE ([Vacuum tube with five active components]). The rest of the grid contained better fill, but my attitude was already set by those early hits.

Good fill includes JON BON JOVI (some Chicagoans were organizing an “open your windows at 7 pm and sing Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ with your neighbors” tonight, but we were busy with our Lou Malnati’s deep-dish, plus I don’t know the words), the MILANESE preparation of food, a car thief’s SLIM JIM, RED BEANS, OUT OF IT, and T.S. ELIOT. Mosquitarian ATE ALIVE is cool, too, provided you’re like me and of little interest to mosquitoes.

I did notice how few women were in this puzzle. We have Susan DEY, Anne KLEIN, and fictional AUNT EM … and that’s it, in a Sunday-sized puzzle. There were some missed opportunities for the editors to improve this, too—MANN could be Aimee, DEE DEE could be Myers or Bridgewater rather than Mr. Ramone. Even VANCE could have brought a little diversity with actor Courtney B. rather than Cyrus.

Five more things:

  • 6d. [One who asks “Got your ears on?”], CBER. Say what? This is news to me. Now, my husband asks me this all the time, but it’s referring to hearing aids.
  • 70d. [Flies into a violent rage], GOES POSTAL. Time to retire this phrase? My Facebook friend who’s a mail carrier never does that! He does, however, vent his annoyance in dark short fictions. They bring me life every time.
  • 84d. [Who wrote “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”], T.S. ELIOT. A classic, dismal quote. Prescient, or was Eliot just a Debbie Downer?
  • 115a. [Didn’t go out], SAT HOME. Hey-o! Raise your hand if you did not go out at all at least two days this week. I have been out thrice in seven days. Those of you who are working in health care, essential retail, carry-out restaurants, transportation, delivery, sanitation, government, and education, we all thank you for serving your community.
  • 63d. [Protected on a boat], ALEE. When we were doing the curbside pizza pickup this evening, I told my husband to turn “hard alee” onto a diagonal street. Don’t tell me if that’s wrong. It’s the only way I ever get to use ALEE in real life.

3.5 stars from me.

Gail Grabowski’s LA Times crossword, “Components Lacking” – Jenni’s write-up

For the second third Sunday in a row, the LAT is by a woman! Looks like Rich is participating in the Crossword Women’s March, at least on Sundays. If you’re enjoying this event, thank Rebecca Falcon, who suggested it – and think healing thoughts as she’s currently ill with COVID-19. Team Fiend misses you, Rebecca, and wishes you a full and speedy recovery.

Now, the puzzle! The components lack ing, as the title says.

Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2020, Gail Grabowski, “Components Lacking,” solution grid

  • 23a [Roadway closed for repairs?] is a DOWN STREET (Downing Street).
  • 25a [Sturdy piece of lumber?] is a SOUND BOARD (sounding board).
  • 37d [Incidental music at a race?] is a TRACK NUMBER (tracking number). I got to this one early, before I grokked the theme, and dropped in TRACK TRACKS, thinking the crossword conspiracy had hit again and the theme was similar to the NYT. Nope.
  • 41d [Make sketches of Barbie dolls?] is DESIGN WOMEN (Designing Women). Watched an episode on YouTube recently. It holds up well. And wow, shoulder pads.
  • 45a [TV show about Amtrak services?] would be a TRAIN PROGRAM (training program).
  • 66a [Cornfield maze, e.g.?] would be a LAND PATTERN (landing pattern).
  • 88a [Free-for-all debate?] is an OPEN ARGUMENT (opening argument).
  • 112a [Unarmed spy?] is a CLEAN AGENT (cleaning agent).
  • 114a [Sidewalk vendor’s supply request?] is a STAND ORDER. Sidewalk vendors are among the countless small business operators who are losing their livelihoods due to social distancing. If you can, support your local food banks and other organizations who are mobilizing to help.

Nice theme! I don’t remember seeing it before and it was fun. All the base phrases are solid and the theme entries are well-clued.

A few other things:

  • I fumbled around the NW for a while. Can’t remember what I put in instead of FILM at 1a, but I took that out and dropped in LOGO for [Quicken’s boxed Q, for one] at 2d. MINUETS rescued me.
  • Are PC LABs really still “hi-tech?” And why is it “hi-tech” instead of “high-tech?”
  • Raise your hand if you put TAKE HEED at 60s instead of TAKE NOTE.
  • I enjoyed the crossing of PRYOR and LENO.
  • I also enjoyed seeing EBONY and ALDER both clued as material for musical instruments.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of TERRI Gibbs (and it took me a while to see that [Square things] was a verb instead of plural noun). Didn’t know that BIOGEN was a [Giant in the development of neurological disease therapies]. Looked at their product list – ah, those therapies. I try hard not to pay attention to pharmaceutical companies by name. Didn’t know that there’s an ASTIN in “Stranger Things” and had to look it up to see which one. It’s Sean.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Vicious Circles” – Jim Q’s writeup

Today’s puzzle is a rather subtle tribute to the great Patrick Berry, who was to earn a lifetime achievement award for puzzle construction at this year’s ACPT, which of course was canceled. Evan’s own write-up about it is here, and it’s very much worth hearing about it from him (he does a much better job explaining the connection than I could!).

THEME: Dante’s Inferno and the rings of hell. Each of the “rings” is indicated by the concentric gray/white rings.

THEME ANSWERS: (I think I’ll just “cheat” and have Evan explain via screenshot)

Washington Post, March 22, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Vicious Circles” solution grid

I was warned ahead of time (and via the notepad in Across Lite) that solving on paper was ideal due to the visual element of the rings, but I didn’t have access to a printer at the time and was anxious to solve, so I glimpsed at the pdf version, noted the rings, and solved in Across Lite anyway. It didn’t really mar the experience, and I enjoyed the oversized experience very much.

I found the whole grid much trickier than normal, but I was also distracted because I was answering phones at my friend’s restaurant, trying to jot down take-out orders and not screw the whole process up (it’s not a takeout kinda place, but now it is!). It felt heavy on names to me (all fairly crossed of course, but new names will slow you down), and I chuckled at the thought of last week’s “name-less” puzzle. Those included: STRINGER Bell, ILANA Glazer, IDA Wells (though I know I should know that), RAMONA Flowers (just realizing now that the clue wasn’t asking for a type of flower), Tycho BRAHE, James AVERY (totally blanked on that!), and LotR nickname STRIDER.

There were a ton more that I knew right away, but whatevs.

The original Berry grid off of which Evan’s was based

This grid was based off of Patrick Berry’s own grid for a puzzle called Going Around in Circles from 2008. And it’s titled after a puzzle suite that Patrick wrote called Vicious Circle (it’s one of the most clever and memorable set of puzzles I’ve ever solved. I highly recommend  purchase it and enjoy the experience while you’re hunkered down at home. Find it here.

A very clever idea. It stands alone as a solid puzzle, but is infinitely enhanced by the back story.

Caitlin Reid’s Universal crossword — “It All Adds Up” — Jim Q’s review

Time to do sum work.

THEME: Phrases that being with numbers, and those numbers add to ten.

Universal crossword solution · Caitlin Reid · “It All Adds Up” · Sun., 03.22.20


  • 24D [*Petty criminal] TWO-BIT CROOK. Not a familiar term to me.
  • 14D [*Green good luck charm] FOUR LEAF CLOVER. Total gimme!
  • 8D [*Classic con game] THREE CARD MONTE. Another gimme if you know you’re looking for phrases that start with numbers!
  • 9D [*Singular occurrence] ONE SHOT DEAL. Another phrase that I’m not all that familiar with.
  • 48D [Hit list? … or a hint to the sum of the starred answers’ starts] TOP TEN. I didn’t see this clue really, and I liked figuring out what to do from the title better.

Fun puzzle, great idea, and nicely executed. I like it when the Universal varies it up a tad but still makes itself accessible to solvers at any level.

Only objection is… who DYEs things white? Haha. I call that bleaching where I’m from!

Overall, nicely done. 4 stars.

Emily Carroll’s Sunday Universal crossword — “Mind Over Matter” — Jim Q’s review

Great puzzle today from Emily Carroll! I’ve really been enjoying the Universals this month!

THEME: The word MIND can be found over a different states of matter in four sets of answers.


Universal Sunday crossword solution · Emily Carroll · “Mind over Matter” · Sun., 03.22.20

Set #1:


Set #2:


Set #3

  • 85A GAS LIGHT 

Set #4

  • 102A I’M IN DANGER

A very clever way to end my solving day! I solved this one alongside a novice solver who marveled at the idea and the way that the word MIND was hidden so well in the themers. And hey, can’t complain about that fill! Especially those 21 letter entries adorning the sides- though INTENSIVE CARE UNIT makes me cringe a bit at the moment. CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES balances that out. The placement of the themers is so well established in this puzzle that there’s no chance of anyone thinking longer, vertical fill would be part of it.

BENJAMIN DISRAELI was new for me, but if ever there was an inferable name, it’s that one!

Thanks for this, Emily!

4.3 Stars.

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19 Responses to Sunday, March 22, 2020

  1. RM Camp says:

    NYT: Of course there was more than one Paul. You know, Billy Shears, who took over after the original Paul died?

  2. Mark Abe says:

    I enjoyed the NYT theme, and liked that at 1A it could be either “mamas” or “papas” until a cross was filled. However, I have to agree that “pentode” is pretty obscure. I think it’s been around 60 years since they were used in TV sets.

    • tom says:

      Pentodes are still used to this day, though unlikely in TVs. Typical applications are power amplifiers, such as for guitars, home audio, and ham radios. They are still manufactured, but not in nearly the numbers that they used to be.

    • Anne says:

      PENTODE was a pretty easy guess if you’ve heard of diodes.

      I also filled in -A-AS and waited for a crossing.

      • JohnH says:

        That’s how I got it, too — by thinking of “diode” and, following the clue, changing the prefix to the right number. BLUECAP was my last to fall, but fine. It looks reasonable to me, not knowing the word. My only objection to the puzzle is that it felt too easy.

        I liked the theme, and APPALL A PAUL didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I smiled. I could defend it anyway: in context of the clue, one reads “a Beatle” as “a Paul,” and in context of the answer, one reads it as Paul of the Beatles being one of many Pauls in the world.

  3. Martin says:

    Today’s Washington Post is available at Today’s Puzzles in Across Lite format, as usual, but Evan strongly suggests solving it with the pdf that he also made available. For this week only, the pdf is posted at:

  4. Lee Glickstein says:

    It’s a dark day when BEHEAD shows up, and extra dark when it shows up with a jokey clue.
    Well I guess it was a dark day already.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Lou Malnati’s reference — noted

  6. PJ says:

    WaPo – NAPALM is on my very short list of least favorite things. I’d rather not see it.

  7. Cynthia says:

    I generally try to keep my comments positive, but I have to make an objection to one of the clues in today’s Universal: You can’t dye things white. You can bleach them white, but dye is for making things darker or a different color. This could have been clued using a color like red or green, which would be cleverly misleading for a fun “aha” moment.

    • Anne says:

      I agree with you. I am often annoyed by people who speak of dyeing their hair blonde. No, you don’t dye it, you bleach it!

  8. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    LAT: How to print the puzzle without the numbers filling the entire squares? I have to refuse to do LAT puzzles for that reason.

  9. Gary R says:


    Thank you for your research on the cornflower – I feel somewhat vindicated regarding the one error in my solve. My last letter in was the 20-A, 11-D cross. I was pretty sure I had heard of “bluecup,” but not “bluecap,” and didn’t really know about 11-D (though, in retrospect, TAI seems more likely).

  10. David Steere says:

    WaPo: I often think about Patrick Berry when I’m doing one of Evan’s wonderful puzzles. The reverse is true, as well. Thanks, Evan, for another gem today. Thanks also to Emily, Caitlin and Gail for more fine work.

    • Pilgrim says:

      A bonus in WaPo was how going from the outer circle to the inner circle, the answers were symmetrically arranged – top; SW; NE; SE; NW; SW; NE; SE; NW/top.

  11. Jack says:

    I’m curious about the theme answer “A vowel avowal” in the NYT puzzle. “Aye” can be pronounced as a vowel, but not “oui” right? Both words can be pronounced as pronouns, by the by.

    • Pilgrim says:

      I think it means the letters in “aye” and “oui” are only vowels.

      • Jack says:

        I think you’re right! I suspect that was the intent. Still, I wonder whether the “y” in “aye” is considered a vowel by the grammar police…

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