Sunday, March 29, 2020

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:42 (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) 9:59 (Jim Q) 


Ricky Cruz’s New York Times crossword, “Keep The Change”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 29 20, “Keep the Change”

Not sure I quite see what the full theme is here. Aha, here’s the problem. The theme relies on some shading that isn’t reflected in the .puz version I used: “In the print version of this puzzle, there are two 5×5-square areas of shaded squares: one whose upper-left corner is the third square of 57-Across, and one whose upper-left corner is the sixth square of 59-Across.” Good gravy, that’s ungainly. I really wish the puzzle page would tell us when the .puz option will suck. Yes, probably Wordplay had a notice yesterday, but I barely read this crossword blog, let alone any others!

Let’s lay it out:

  • 26a. [Make heads or tails of a situation … or an alternative title for this puzzle], TELL LEFT FROM RIGHT. Usually a phrase used in the negative, no?
  • 110a. [Kind of visual puzzle … or what to do with each line in this puzzle’s two shaded areas], SPOT THE DIFFERENCE.
  • There are two unchecked entries, 56d. [The circled letters in the first shaded area], BLACK, and 62d. [The circled letters in the second shaded area], WHITE. If you are looking at a version of the puzzle that has those shaded 5×5 sections of grid, which mostly include fragments of answers, the circled B L A C K and W H I T E letters appear in the same spots in those shaded zones.

Strikingly unsatisfying solve in the .puz format, but I acknowledge that it must have been freakishly hard to construct the puzzle with those constraints. Overall, the fill was normal fill (EFTS is among a smattering of musty fill), with some highlights along the way, such as SQUALID, SNOWDEN, IDITAROD, DISTURBIA with a double pop-culture clue (the Rihanna song came to mind first, not that I’ve ever heard it—editing pop-culture crosswords has its advantages!), GET OFF A SHOT, REAL DEAL, SPONGEBOB, CUTTING EDGE, and DOOZIES.

So! I did not get anything out of the theme in the puzzle format I used, but I admire the effort and appreciated the zippy and modern fill. Not a fan of the title—what am I missing? Why “Keep the Change”? I’ll withhold a puzzle rating, but give 1.5 out of 5 stars to the NYT for not making it obvious that only non-.puz formats would provide a satisfactory experience here.


Gary Larson’s LA Times crossword, “Inner Cities” – Jenni’s write-up

The run of Sunday LATs by women has ended, and it’s still March. Oh, well.

Each theme answer is hiding something.

Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2020, Gary Larson, “Inner Cities,” solution grid

  • 15d [*Lead singer of a group whose first two Top 40 hits reached #1] is
  • 22a [*Alternative to a pizza oven] is a BAKING STONE.
  • 38a [*Office group leader] is a TEAM MANAGER.
  • 60a [*Online gaming attraction] are VIDEO SLOTS. I think that should have been “attractions.”
  • 62d [*Breakfast order usually made with ham, onion and green pepper] is a DENVER OMELET.
  • 77a [*Mathematical abstraction with evenly spaced integers] is a NUMBER LINE.
  • 100a [*Only occupant of Vostok I] was YURI GAGARIN.

And the revealer: 118a [Startup funds … and a hint to what’s hidden in the answers to the starred clues], SEED CAPITAL.

It’s a fairly solid theme, but…I really don’t like DENVER OMELET, which has another city in it. It’s even a capital city. Yeah, I know, it’s a state capital, not a national capital, but still. And SEED CAPITAL is more often referred to as SEED MONEY. I checked the Google Ngram viewer to be sure, since this is not my area of expertise. Look for yourself. You can click to embiggen.

A few other things:

  • I could have done without APISHLY, which is not a thing anyone says. If they were going to say it, they’d be talking about apes, not a synonym for [In an imitative way]. Dreck like that in the NW corner colors my whole experience of the puzzle. It doesn’t bother me as much if it’s buried in the middle, probably because I might fill it in from crossings and not really see it.
  • I remember the days when people could cross THE POND and travel safely through INTL airports. Those old days three or four weeks ago…
  • Is CLAMATO juice as disgusting as it sounds? I’ve never tried it. I’ll do a lot of things to further my understanding of crossword puzzles, but I draw the line at drinking that stuff.
  • NILLA wafers, on the other hand, are delicious. They were my father’s favorite commercial cookie. Dad had some odd ideas about cookies. He could not stand it when we unscrewed Oreos. He would not allow it in his presence. When my daughter was about two, I took her to Mom and Dad’s and sat her at the kitchen table with my dad – and a box of Oreos, which she had just learned to unscrew. I knew he wouldn’t stop his beloved granddaughter from doing something that made her so happy. The look on my father’s face was priceless. I wish I had a picture of it.
  • I forgot that 90 degrees is DUE EAST on a compass and kept trying to make something geometric fit in there.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that FRANKIE VALLI and the Four Seasons reached #1 with their first two Top 40 hits. I also didn’t know that YURI GAGARIN‘s spaceship was Vostok 1 and I had no idea that MA KETTLE was a character in “The Egg and I.” I know the book, a memoir by Betty MacDonald, and I knew it had been made into a movie. Apparently it spawned the Ma and Pa Kettle series of films.

I leave you with the first #1 hit from The Four Seasons. Dig the tuxedos!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Extra! Extra!” – Jim Q’s writeup

Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double. Just somthin’ a little Extra in the puzzle today.

THEME: Four-letter words that can follow the word SPARE are represented by double letters in rebus squares within longer entries.

Washington Post, March 29, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Extra! Extra!” solution grid


  • 23A [Relaxed dress code] CASUAL ATTIRE The crossings include PUTTER, SHIITES, SORRY, THEE
  • 56A [Final notes?] CRIB SHEETS. CHIRR, RADII, B-BALL, ASSES. 
  • 79A [Like exhibits with audio and video components] MULTIMEDIA. OTTER, WII-MOTE, DEMME, PUREE
  • 117A [Leonidas’s belligerent catchphrase in “300”] THIS ….. IS ….. SPARTA!!!!!!!! SLAPPED, JAY HAAS, ERRED, AT TEN.
  • 68 [Extra, or a word that precedes the “extra” words in this puzzle] SPARE

This was an all-around TIGHT puzzle, and a joy to solve. I picked up on the double letter rebus early, but it still took quite a while to fully understand that A) There was a four-in-a-row rebus pattern and B) They were embedded within longer answers. I don’t know why it took me so long to see the latter. Early on, I was almost annoyed when I stumbled on double letters that weren’t in a rebus.

Once grokked, it’s one of those puzzles where the theme helps with the fill and the fill helps with the theme. For instance, if you’re anything like me, you’ve never heard of Jonathan DEMME. And you can’t quite see MULTIMEDIA just yet. However, you know you’re looking for a four-letter word that can follow SPARE, and you see TI?E. Well… it must be TIME, which gives you DEMME, which gives you MULTIMEDIA, and whoo hoo! What a feeling!


  • 14A [Midwest city whose name is always spelled in Vietnamese?] AMES. I highlighted it in red there. Love these cryptic-esque clues.
  • 34A [Subject of a classic Monty Python pet shop sketch] DEAD PARROT. I vaguely remember this sketch, but it certainly makes for interesting fill! Note: Just re-watched. Absurd and hilarious. 

  • 33D [Had class?] TAUGHT. Question mark is less punny to me now as I’m not really sure how to conduct my online classes while quarantined. Still in the experimental phase.

Nothing much to scowl at and some decent bit in this one. Memorable puzzle indeed.

Lynn Lempel’s Universal crossword — “Going to the Dogs” — Jim Q’s review

Some puzzles are for the birds. This one’s for the dogs.

THEME: Phrases that include breeds of dogs are reimagined and clued via dog breed.

Universal crossword solution · Lynn Lempel · “Going to the Dogs” · Sun., 03.29.20


  • 17A [Brief films about certain dogs?] BOXER SHORTS. Cute. 
  • 27A [Certain dog’s place to swim?] DALMATIAN COAST. 
  • 42A [Certain dogs from the same litter?] POINTER SISTERS. 
  • 55A [Parents in a certain dog family?] LAB PARTNERS. 

Tight theme and concept. What more can you want from Universal and Lynn Lempel? My favorite of the four themers was the first one. If I had to pick one that felt off, it’d be DALMATIAN COAST as dalmatians are actually named for that region in Croatia. The first word in this type of theme shouldn’t be reminiscent of the actual breed of dog at all, right?

Things got screwy for me in the ALL MIXED UP, X-RAY, JOEY area. I put ORALS in for 46A [Pictures for the dentist], and could not for the life of me figure out the answer to the (very good) clue at 36D [Bouncing baby?]. JOEY. Of course!

Fun theme and a nice start to the Sunday solves! 3.8 Stars.

Alison Ohringer’s Sunday Universal crossword — “Follow the Recipe” — Jim Q’s review

Not much of a cook here, so not sure I’ll be able to use this puzzle to much avail…

THEME: Ingredients of an apple pie are “mixed” within theme answers.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · Alison Ohringer · “Follow the Recipe” · Sun., 03.29.20


  • 23A [Move like some babies (unscramble each set of circled letters!)] WALK ON ALL FOURS. Flour. 
  • 36A [“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”] NEWTON’S THIRD LAW. Lard. 
  • 57A [Event in which the moon obscures the sun] TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE. Salt.
  • 79A [Contemporary of W.E.B. DuBois] BOOKER T. WASHINGTON. Water.
  • 99A [One may evoke pity] EMOTIONAL APPEAL. Apple. 
  • 118A [Pointed green vegetable] ASPARAGUS SPEAR. Sugar. The SPEAR part is entirely superfluous here… the letters in SUGAR don’t bridge it and just ASPARAGUS by itself sounds better with the clue. 
  • 86A [Result of mixing the ingredients hidden in 23-, 36-, 57- and 79-Across] CRUST. 
  • 115A [End result of this puzzle’s recipe] PIE. 

I don’t know about this. I feel like if I followed the recipe as per the title, I’d have a mess. I don’t know how long to bake it for, what kind of dishes to use, how much of each ingredient… I think I’d go nuts with the salt, throw one whole apple in the middle, and forego the oven entirely. Done!

I get how the ingredients are “mixed” in the theme answers, but once I saw the title and read the (spoiler alert!) instructions in the first clue: Unscramble each set of circled letters!, this just turned into a themeless. I didn’t bother to unscramble anything until after I was finished and was listing the theme answers above.

Also, 2D [Reason to leave a message] NO ANSWER is not all that accurate any more! MYSPACE doesn’t exactly help to give it an up-to-date feel either. OH WELL.

And lastly, of course, I wonder how this appears in print since circles are necessary, and Universal can’t pull those off… I assume the solving audience is asked to count letters? Weird.

2.2 Stars from me on this one. I was on auto-pilot.


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24 Responses to Sunday, March 29, 2020

  1. AV says:

    NYT: Trying to make sense. All the shaded letters on the left and right are the same … except the letters that spell BLACK & WHITE? Is there a hidden message (apart from the TELL LEFT FROM RIGHT & SPOT THE DIFFERENCE; also, I guess KEEP THE CHANGE instructs you to put the “change” in the unchecked squares?)?
    MES (L/H)

  2. Nene says:

    An unmitigated disaster. Theme is a cross between unintelligible and unsatisfying.

    • Dr Fancypants says:

      Totally agree. There was a glimmer of a good idea here, but the end result was an incoherent mess of a theme.

  3. Lise says:

    I feel that the problems with this puzzle were not the constructor’s fault. The solving experience seems to vary with the format and the platform. My .pdf had shaded squares which I thought were dice with the pips rearranged, and although I didn’t initially notice that I was putting the same letters in each one, save the BLACK/WHITE letters, I did think wow, there sure are a lot of Ss in here ?

    In addition, as Amy said, there are a lot of interesting longer entries. And the theme must have taken quite a bit of work to create. In all, it was an enjoyable start to my morning, along with BLACK coffee and breakfast in a WHITE bowl.

  4. Mutman says:

    Being in quarantine like most, I solved straight out of the NYT magazine, which offered a very nice aesthetic puzzle.

    What I found unsatisfying was that the bottom themer tells us to ‘spot the difference’ in the 2 5×5 grey squares. Why the differences were actually circled is beyond me — the construction spotted the black/white for you! At least if I had to figure out the black/white myself I think I would have enjoyed it more. Not that it would have been a big challenge, but the way it was just handed to you made no sense, IMO.

    • davey says:


      this is from the constructor, on another blog: “The big change the editing team made theme-wise is that the differences are already circled, which is a bit of a let-down”.

      swing and a miss from the editing team imo! damn near wrecks the thing!

  5. Christopher Smith says:

    Worked just fine in the app. Funny, when the app used to not be able to pull off things like shaded squares, I’d complain about it & no one seemed to care. A constructor actually berated me about it once. Now, all the sudden…

  6. Constant Malachi says:

    NYT: created for the constructor’s sake alone. For solvers, it was a chore without a payoff. 2/5.

  7. e.a. says:

    astonishing to me that the universal sunday review did not say one positive thing about the puzzle (i’m biased on a couple levels but i thought it was very good). who does that serve?

    • Jim Quinlan says:

      In retrospect, I’m surprised too. I usually always try to point out positives even when a puzzle isn’t my cup of tea. I should’ve done that here, and for some reason I didn’t.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I didn’t solve the puzzle myself, but looking at Jim’s post, I’m impressed with the liveliness of the theme entries. Too often the longer phrases hiding words/scrambles are dull, but this set is superb. Nice work, Alison!

      It’s too bad the puzzle didn’t run a couple weeks ago on Pi Day’s weekend, but I imagine David had his hands full recruiting, editing, and scheduling the Women’s March month of puzzles.

  8. William Travers says:

    There may be a hidden message in the shades squares. The words are:
    “Eso mes nada son sad.” This roughly translates from the Spanish to:
    “This month nothing is sad.”

    Could this be a commentary about how March has been such a trying time?

  9. Mike the Wino says:

    Re the Universal Sunday puzzle, I’m wondering why there are circles in 99 and 118 across, and nothing to clue them as part of the (end result) pie? Or am I missing something?

  10. Mike the Wino says:

    I get that, but it wasn’t clued like 86 across was. Just seems lacking.

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