Sunday, May 17, 2020

LAT 7:04 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:38 (Amy) 


WaPo 11:13 (Jim Q) 


Universal tk (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) 11:27 (Jim P) 


Byron Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Wide-Open Spaces”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 5 17 20, “Wide-Open Spaces”

We’ve got a plus-sized themeless puzzle here, roughly twice the number of entries as a standard Walden Saturday puzzle. Alas, the clues are pitched more to a Wednesday-ish level, because you’d expect Byron’s themeless clues to make this puzzle take a lot longer than the typical Sunday puzzle. And for me, it fell more quickly than most Sundays.

There are some awkwardnesses like FIZZER and ANSWERER and BARTERER’s -ERs, and that plural CONGO REDS. I also question whether bitcoin belongs in the E-CURRENCIES clue; Google results suggest that e-currency is used to refer to all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the cryptocurrency called bitcoin. Also, starting 1-Across with the flatness of AT PAR isn’t great.

Likes: Yalitzia APARICIO, WENT AT IT, KING HUSSEIN, USAIN BOLT, ZEPPO MARX (though the ZEPPO/ZAMFIR crossing likely snagged a zillion younger solvers), MUZZLED, EXTRA-LARGE PIZZAS (I haven’t had pizza since last Sunday’s Lou Malnati’s deep-dish! it’s been too long), and SPLURGES.

I’m not finding myself with a whole lot to say about the puzzle tonight, and the family has started playing blackjack without me so I BETTER GO. 3.5 stars from me. Would have enjoyed it more with twisty Byronesque clues peppering the puzzle.

Adam Vincent’s LA Times crossword, “Illegal Tender” – Jenni’s write-up

Man, have I had enough of staring at this screen – and I have a Zoom book group this afternoon and a Zoom meeting this evening. This review will be brief.

All the theme answers are phrases with slang words for money.

Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2020, Adam Vincent, “Illegal Tender,” solution grid

  • 22a [Mad money?] is STEAMED CLAMS.
  • 28a [Grant money?] is WISH BONES.
  • 40a [Hot money?] is BUFFALO BILLS. That one took me a minute.
  • 52a [Ransom money?] is SPRING ROLL.
  • 76a [Old money?] is STALE BREAD.
  • 87a [Paper money?] is EDITORS NOTES.
  • 100a [Bad money?] is SOUR DOUGH.
  • 109a [Smart money?] is SHARP CHEDDAR.

A solid, enjoyable theme that did not telegraph the answers. Nice.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that BONES is a slang word for money.

Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “Back Talk”—Jim P’s review

Our theme is phrases whose second word can indicate something spoken (similar to this recent super-fantastic puzzle) after a change in meaning.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Back Talk” · Gary Larson · Sun., 5.17.20

  • 24a [Something heard … at a paint store?] FINISH LINE
  • 30a [… on a movie set?] CAST ASIDE
  • 71a [… at a clock tower?] SECOND STORY. This is the weakest of the lot, I think. The relationship between a clock tower and seconds lacks primacy. I doubt that most (any?) clock tower clocks have second hands.
  • 111a [… at a support group?] COPING SAW
  • 122a [… at a seance?] MEDIUM TERM
  • 3d [… at a spa?] FACIAL EXPRESSION
  • 6d [… on a fishing trip?] BANK STATEMENT
  • 44d [… in a chemistry lab?] COMPOUND SENTENCE. This is an outlier. The second word doesn’t change meaning at all.
  • 62d [… from Olympic skier Picabo?] STREET ADDRESS

A good set, I think, and (mostly) consistent. A few things are a little off target, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s also impressive that two of the Down entries cross two other theme entries (each) without sacrificing the fill much, if at all.

Plenty of goodies to admire here: SKITTISH, KABUKI, TAILFIN, KISSCAM, THE FLY, “HOORAY,” TATAMI, “NO GIFTS,” SYNCS UP, GONDOLA, and SMUGGLER. And nothing of significance to scowl at. Good fill.

Clues of note:

  • 13a. [Stake holder, perhaps?]. This one took me a few seconds to suss out once I got the Y. I wanted SLAYER to be clued with respect to the metal band, but then I realized the clue referred to a vampire SLAYER, which is good, too.
  • 89a. [Apt flowers for an optometrist’s office?]. IRISES. I think if I was an optometrist, I would do this…and have lots of Van Gogh paintings on the walls.
  • 25d. [“Is anyone in here?”]. “HELLO?” I like an evocative clue like this. Nice one.

Solid theme and strong fill. Good puzzle. 3.7 stars.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Last Dance” – Jim Q’s writeup

Title was a dead giveaway for this one! A breezy over-the-plate offering appropriately placed in the mix.

Washington Post, May 17, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Last Dance” solution grid

THEME: Phrases where the last word is a dance.


  • 24A [Continue to be unresolved] REMAIN IN LIMBO
  • 33A [1973 song by the Pointer Sisters with a message about the need to come together] YES WE CAN CAN!
  • 62A [Discontinued Apple product that could hold many tracks] iPOD SHUFFLE
  • 67A [Trivia website with an Amazing Fact Generator] MENTAL FLOSS
  • 97A [Hairdo often held together with bobby pins] FRENCH TWIST
  • 105A [Extra-income activity that may have started as a passion project] SIDE HUSTLE
  • 109A [Question about drafts] WHAT’S ON TAP?
  • 129A [Ballroom dance spelled out by the last letters of this puzzle’s dances] ONE STEP. 

Gotta say, I did not see that revealer coming! Even though it is certainly not the first time Evan has used that conceit (not even close), nor will it be the last time (not even close), it totally- and pleasantly- caught me off-guard in an otherwise simple puzzle.

This is a good one to hook newer solvers, which the WaPo is careful to include amongst it’s more… shall we say… inventive themes. If I had one nit to pick, it would be that TAP as a style doesn’t seem to gel as well with the other, more specific, dances.

The real joy in this was the cluing for the fill. Some solid trivia, and some cleverness all around.

I apologize for the late write-up and the brevity!


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18 Responses to Sunday, May 17, 2020

  1. Frank says:

    I agree about FIZZER, BARTERER, ANSWERER, and PLANER. Too may ER endings ruined it for HUNTERGATHERER, which was a fine answer. I grew up seeing ads for ZAMFIR albums on TV, right alongside the ads for Nana Mouskouri albums. That and the BELAIR had me in a time warp for a few minutes. Note: If you’re going to publish a themeless, just call it that please.

    • JohnH says:

      In the print edition, the long editor’s note that’s been a feature for maybe a couple of months says so. It also describes the vocabulary as a little more obscure than usual, with long entries lowering the word count. I hadn’t realized the online version doesn’t have this.

      • Mark Abe says:

        I was just thinking how nice it would be if the editor’s notes could be included in the on-line edition. Between that and the frequency of local references to neighborhoods or transit it makes it seem like the editors don’t remember about those of us solving on-line from 3000 miles away. Hey, editors and constructors, we DO pay our fair share!

    • Art Shapiro says:

      In all fairness, a PLANER is a quite familiar tool to woodworkers – sometimes I wish I had one. Concur totally about the other three.

  2. JohnH says:

    I found the NYT quite difficult, which to me is a good thing, although ZAMFIR didn’t look right and I needed every crossing for APARICIO. (OTOH, Roma is waiting for me from Netflix right now.) I greatly missed a theme Sunday, lowering my rating substantially, but I do realize that for others it comes as a pleasant bonus.

    I wouldn’t call ZEPPO an age thing, since it’d take someone old indeed to have seen, say, Monkey Business when it was released in 1931. I saw them when my father took me, at revival houses, and relished them ever since enough to have bought a book of their movie sequences, and I keep laughing (well, not at Zeppo). The only difference is that someone younger would have seen them online, say.

    • Lise says:

      I saw many a Marx brothers movie at our local indie theatre in the mid-to-late 1970s, and I may have owned that same book. I couldn’t get enough of those movies. My college roommate and I managed to do the mirror scene from Duck Soup, which was reprised on I Love Lucy.

      I enjoyed the NYT immensely. I was stumped by CONGO REDS and FANS but BOSSES was the only down that made sense, so I prevailed; otherwise, it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed the long answers, but since I had printed the .pdf, it took me a while to realize that it was a themeless without the note.

      Well done!

    • PJ says:

      Is the book you’re talking about “Why A Duck?”. I still have my copy.

      • Lise says:

        Yes! That’s it! I gave mine away. It would be fun to read, about now.

      • JohnH says:

        That’s it, thanks so much! Super. I’ve also recently replayed the YouTube clip of the password sequence. But yeah, the point isn’t that old movies are all about age, or none of us would remember, you name it, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, most of Hitchcock, you name it, much less older still like Renoir, Chaplin, and Eisenstein.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Always appreciate a Lou Malnati’s reference

  4. Gary R says:

    I often find the Sunday NYT to be a slog, and don’t bother to finish it. Usually, this is because half-way through the puzzle the theme has worn thin and I just don’t care any more. So for me, a themeless Sunday was welcome,. I enjoyed the solve and I thought the cluing was about right for a Sunday (Mr. Walden’s is not a by-line I recognize, so I had no prior expectations). But I agree with @Frank – I would have preferred Mr. Shortz had just come out and said this is themeless, so I didn’t have to keep wondering if I was missing something.

    I was surprised at the answer to 77-A (BIDEN). Knowing that Trump is the 45th president, and that at least two VPs (Ford and Rockefeller) had been appointed in my lifetime, and that a number of presidents had died in office, I assumed we were up to fifty-some VPs by now. I didn’t realize that prior to the 25th Amendment, there was no provision for replacing a VP who either died or assumed the presidency. Several U.S. presidents served 3+ years with no VP.

  5. Solver says:

    Noted an unintentional Schrödinger square in the LAT, where IRKS crosses LINKAGE.
    75A “Wears on” could be IRES, and 54D “Connection” could be LINEAGE (the latter is a bit looser, but still within bounds as a correct crossword cluing).

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Yup … I submitted my solution with the IReS/LINeAGE cross. IRKS/LINKAGE works a little better with the clues, but the ‘e’ at the cross was more than plausible, particularly for an amateur genealogist. In what language did OKE mean “Just peachy”? I wasn’t on the same page as the constructor with this puzzle, but still managed to fill it in a normal LAT Sunday solve time. I’m happy to put it behind me.

  6. David L says:

    The first long answer I filled in was EASTERNAUSTRALIA, so I thought the theme was going to be large expanses clued in tricky ways. Then I got EXTRALARGEPIZZAS, which kind of worked. But then HITTINGTHEPANICBUTTON? I came here expecting an explanation of the theme – but no. Oh well.

    There were quite a few obscurities, I thought, the but crossings were enough for me to get them all. BOSSES was a mystery but it couldn’t be anything else.

    Unexciting overall, I have to say.

  7. Sam Trabucco says:

    Bitcoin is one of the only things I think about more the crosswords, and I’ve never heard it (or any other cryptocurrency) referred to as an E-CURRENCY.

  8. Reid says:

    Given that SAPID and SIPID have the same meaning, having it cross an obscure Chinese city seems incredibly unfair.

    I hadn’t heard of either, and I figured they were being cute by including the rarely used opposite of insipid, kinda of like how “ept” is in crosswords sometimes even though no one uses that word as the opposite of “inept”

    • R says:

      That one was a Natick for me. I couldn’t reconcile DALIAN (40% sure) and SIPID (40% sure), and have never heard of SAPID.

  9. Lester says:

    LAT: Having OVARY as the 7A answer made the 78D clue, “ovarian hormone,” awfully inelegant. Yes, it’s great to have ESTROGEN in the puzzle, but there are plenty of other ways it could have been clued.

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