Sunday, May 10, 2020

LAT 8:56 (Jenni) 


NYT 9:21 (Amy) 


WaPo 20:02 (Jim Q) 


Universal 6:00 (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Adam Fromm’s New York Times crossword, “Border Crossings”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 5 10 20, “Border Crossings”—Adam Fromm

Neat geographical theme: Take two bordering countries and list them one after the other, highlighting the familiar vocab that can serve as a bridge over the border. The clues are for the bridges, with an added hint telling us the continent or region.

  • 23a. Wing it [Africa], CHADLIBYA, with AD LIB linking CHAD and LIBYA.
  • 28a. Complete rip-off [Asia], LAOSCAMBODIA, with SCAM in LAOS and CAMBODIA.
  • 41a. Record company [Central America], GUATEMALABELIZE, with LABEL in GUATEMALA and BELIZE.
  • 58a. What subjects and verbs must do [Europe], BULGARIAGREECE, with AGREE in BULGARIA and GREECE.
  • 66a. Sort by urgency of need [Europe], AUSTRIAGERMANY, with TRIAGE in AUSTRIA and GERMANY.
  • 86a. T-shirt size [South America], BRAZILARGENTINA, with LARGE in BRAZIL and ARGENTINA.
  • 99a. First month of the year without a U.S. federal holiday [Asia], MYANMARCHINA, with MARCH in MYANMAR and CHINA.
  • 108a. Biblical outcast [South America], CHILEPERU, with LEPER in CHILE and PERU.

I didn’t realize till halfway through the puzzle that the country pairs share a land border. That definitely elevates the theme, since it’s not just “take two random countries whose names can be connected by a word.”

Dupes that jumped out at me while solving: HOT COCOA and CACAO (the word cocoa is taken right from cacao) and D.C. AREA echoed needlessly by D.C. in the clue for 31a POT. That said, one can never have too much chocolate, so …

Weirdly ungendered clue for 67d. UNMAN, [Dishearten]. Merriam-Webster gives two definitions: “to deprive of manly vigor, fortitude, or spirit” and “castrate.” So dishearten doesn’t really capture it. Can’t we have a little castration in the clues?

Fave fill: Scottish SWORD DANCE (new to me), STICK ‘EM UP, WROTE OFF, NEWS CLIP, POP TART, TIDE POD, the TV show FLEABAG (haven’t seen it, hope to), LUNA BAR, EARTH DAY, PO’BOY.

Great clue: 15d. [Group seen in gathering clouds?], AEIOU. If you think it’s neat that there are words and phrases that contain each vowel exactly once, check out the Facebook group called Supervocalics. Gathering clouds is particularly nice since the vowels appear in alpha order.

Not wild about these assorted two-word 6s: RAIL ON, YEN FOR, THE NEA, ON LATE. Also the shorter glue like OENO, ELOI, AGARS.

3.5 stars from me, overall.

Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword, “Trade School” – Jenni’s write-up

I thought I figured out the theme early one. I only saw part of it.

Each theme answer has a X replaced by another letter.

  • Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2020, Paul Coulter, “Trade School,” solution grid

    23a [This year’s hatchlings?] are the NEST GENERATION (next generation).

  • 37a [Chopin virtuoso’s self-assurance?] is ETUDE CONFIDENCE (exude).
  • 50a [Greek cross in a company logo?] CORPORATE TAU (tax).
  • 58a [Opinion surveys on text changes?] are EDIT POLLS (exit).
  • 80a [Time to honor an aircraft manufacturer?] is BOEING DAY (boxing).
  • 91a [Shark’s interim appendage?] is a TEMPORARY FIN (fix).
  • 97a [Ripening of a Mediterranean fruit?] is OLIVE COMPLETION (complexion).

And the revealer: 120a [Pupil with a phonetic beginning that hints at what the circled letters comprise] is XCHANGE STUDENT. The letters that replace X in each theme answer read STUDENT as you go down the grid. It’s a good theme, well-executed. I could have done without the circles showing me which letters were replaced, and I would have preferred EXCHANGE to XCHANGE, but those are minor quibbles. This is a feat of construction that was also fun to solve.

A few other things:

  • I asked the resident geologist if they use ARETE in conversation. His response: “Maybe Alpine geologists, but I’ve never heard it used or read it in a paper.” It’s not just a scientific term, it’s an arcane scientific term not widely used by the scientists who study mountains. If it left everyone’s word lists, that would be fine.
  • I fell for the part-of-speech misdirection at 7d, [Strip of vegetation]. “Strip” is a verb, and the answer is DENUDE.
  • Speaking of possibly obscure, I wasn’t expecting MEDS to the answer for [Scrips]. That’s medical shorthand and I usually write “scripts” because it’s short for “prescriptions.” How’d that play for normal people?
  • I remember the AUTOMAT! My grandmother used to take me there for lunch before we went to a museum or a show. Then on the way home we’d stop at Barney Greengrass for fish and she’d banter with the counterman, who remembered her from the days when she was growing up in the neighborhood. Happy Mother’s Day, Cherry.
  • Remember the days when our biggest worry was MIR falling from the sky? Good times.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that NEDDA is Silvio’s lover in “Pagliacci.”

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Splitting Hairs” – Jim Q’s writeup

Hands up for really, really wanting LITTLE BO PEEP instead of LITTLE BOY BLUE at 54-Across!

THEME: Hairstyles are “split” in theme answers by one letter. Those letters, in Birnholzian style, spell out a revealer of sorts.

Washington Post, May 10, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Splitting Hairs” solution grid


  • 24A [Series of video games where characters from Nintendo franchises fight in a battle royal] SUPER SMASH BROS. Perm. 
  • 35A [“The Joy Luck Club” and “White Teeth,” e.g.] DEBUT NOVELS. Bun. 
  • 54A [Young shepherd of a nursery rhyme] LITTLE BOY BLUE. Bob. 
  • 57A [Chug] GULP DOWN. Updo. 
  • 93A [Man from Quezon City] FILIPINO. Flip. 
  • 95A [1994 greatest hits album that includes “Smooth Operator”] THE BEST OF SADEFade. 
  • 111A [Title and subject of a Ruby Blondell book, subtitled “Beauty, Myth, Devastation”] HELEN OF TROY. Fro. 
  • 125A [App game with matching sweets] CANDY CRUSH SAGA. Shag. 
  • 75A [Hair-cutting experts … and what’s spelled out by the letters cutting this puzzle’s hairdos] STYLISTS. 

Not what I was expecting on Mother’s Day, especially after last year’s Mother’s Day meta which is still very fresh in my memory (Morticia Addams!). But a fun one nonetheless. There are some really nice finds in the theme answers, which, given the tightness of the theme, must’ve been tricky to compile. I mean, THE BEST OF SADE is almost laughably not on the forefront of my mind as a thing, but it’s so out there that I found it strangely enjoyable to uncover.

I found the fill tougher than usual, though completely fair. I floundered quite a bit in the NE. Didn’t know EMPTOR at all. And looking back at it now, I don’t know why I struggled so much with that section. Maybe the clues just seemed somewhat vague at the time in that area and it was difficult for me to enter anything I was 100% confident with. I dunno.

Very much enjoyed the clue for 3-Down [Boomers at a concert?]. AMPS. And let’s just go ahead and assume it was a Grateful Dead concert while we’re at it.

Really enjoyed most of the ? clues, though there’s one I don’t quite get: [Door handle, at times?] = NAME. Little help? I mean, I know that a handle is a NAME, but I don’t get the Door part.

And of course, the video game clue of the day = SUPER SMASH BROS.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Gary Larson’s Universal crossword “Oilers” — Jim Q’s write-up

I’m just realizing as I typed in the title that I haven’t tried to figure out what the theme is yet! Doing that now…

Universal crossword solution · “Oilers” · Gary Larson · Sun., 5.10.20

THEME: Just looked at it for five minutes. I don’t know.

THEME ANSWERS: (I assume?) **figured it out… see write-up

  • 19A [Princess Leia portrayer] CARRIE FISHER
  • 39A [“The Naked Chef” author] JAMIE OLIVER
  • 56A [Golfer for whom a cocktail was named] ARNOLD PALMER

Let’s avoid discussion about whether or not mixing iced tea and lemonade should be referred to as a “cocktail” for the moment (that’s the only way I know how to make an ARNOLD PALMER anyway…) and look for a theme. What do these three have in common? What can the title mean??

AHA! I got it!

FISHer (Fish oil), OLIVEr (Olive oil), PALMer (Palm oil).

Yeesh, that almost felt like a meta. Okay, so they are all OILers (ignoring the fact that the E of the ER in OLIVER breaks consistency). Anyone else have the same difficulty sussing it out as I did? It very well could just be me. Also, when I think Oil, PALM isn’t on the forefront of my mind, and FISH isn’t that much further ahead.

I found the fill much more difficult than usual today too, so I’m gonna go ahead and just say mulligan. My fault! I wasn’t on the wavelength today.

I’ll forego a rating.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Two-Way Players”—Jim P’s review

Sorry for the late post, everyone. It completely slipped my mind with Mother’s Day goings-on.

Anyhoo, the theme is sports teams who share a name, as revealed by DOUBLE TEAMS [Gangs up on, in basketball … or a hint to the starred answers’ ends].

Universal crossword solution · “Two-Way Players” · Zhouqin Burnikel · Sun., 5.10.20

  • 23a. [*Zion patrollers (New York, Texas)]. PARK RANGERS. Hockey, Baseball.
  • 28a. [*Commercial fliers (New York, Winnipeg)]. PASSENGER JETS. Football, Hockey.
  • 44a. [*They’re strong and mild (New York, San Francisco)]. GENTLE GIANTS. Football, Baseball. Three New York teams on this list? Can’t they come up with original names?
  • 66a. [*Catholic Church body (Arizona, St. Louis)]. THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS. Football, Baseball. But not the Stanford Cardinal (singular), which they will painstakingly tell you is the color, not the bird.
  • 93a. [*Christmas carol about the Magi (Los Angeles, Sacramento)]. WE THREE KINGS. Hockey, Basketball.
  • 106a. [*Ferocious felines (Carolina, Florida)]. BLACK PANTHERS. Football, Hockey.

I didn’t realize there were so many shared team names, which I found interesting. Impressive how ZB rounded them all up and found symmetrical phrases for all of them.

Fill highlights: NAME NAMES, TICKLE PINK, MEDIA STORM (I had MEDIA BLITZ first), BAR BRAWLS, OLYMPUS, GIFT SETS, and even “AH BLISS” which sounds a little contrived, but it’s very evocative. Lovely stuff, as usual from this constructor.

Nothing much to scowl at either, so I will leave it there. I hope everyone who celebrated, had a nice Mother’s Day. See you tomorrow.

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12 Responses to Sunday, May 10, 2020

  1. Constant Malachi says:

    NYT: DOGE crossing FRUG? No. Disqualified. No other analysis necessary.

  2. John says:

    For what it’s worth, ARETE is very common in rock climbing lingo, meaning the side of a rock face (

    Since it’s plenty familiar to me in that context, I was surprised to see it on lists of the worst crosswordese!

  3. Norm says:

    WaPo: Many people’s offices have their name on the door. Mine is actually on a little plaque off to the side, but … close enough.

  4. pannonica says:

    Universal: “when I think Oil, PALM isn’t on the forefront of my mind”

    Perhaps it should be. It’s the most ‘popular’ vegetable oil used by humans and, as a consequence, vast swaths of the world’s rain forests are being destroyed, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Biodiversity is suffering enormously.

    Caveat emptor, indeed.

  5. Lise says:

    NYT: I loved this. I would get a few letters of a country and then I could think about which country would border it and also make the answer to the clue. I was eager to get to the next theme entry, which is what makes a themed puzzle so much fun for me.

    I enjoy geography in general, and in particular, those jetpunk quizzes – especially the one where the world map is blank and the countries appear as they are entered. Thank you, Gareth, for getting me started on those.

    Also, there was very little suffering to be had in the fill. FRUG was okay with me, as I am old enough to remember it. Not that I could do it properly (at least not in front of other humans), but the cat seemed okay with it.

    Nice, Adam Fromm! I hope to see more from you.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I also enjoyed the NYT. The low ratings surprise me. I tried to do a similar theme last year and it didn’t come out nearly as well. Good job, Adam!

  6. norm says:

    LAT: I was surprised there were so many X phrases that could be changed. This one had me at ETUDE CONFIDENCE. I found the rest of this morning’s offerings[NYT, WaPo, etc.] pretty blah. Nothing wrong with them, but none of them were much fun. As a former exchange student many [MANY] years ago, LAT was a definite winner.

  7. Jeff says:

    Enjoyed the NYT, but what is DAU? Googled it and found nothing.

  8. Amie says:

    CENSE? C’mon.

  9. Crotchety Doug says:

    Re: NYT: When I first glanced at this puzzle, I mis-read the clue for 1A and thought “YEARS”. Then realized ….

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