Andrew Chaikin’s New York Times crossword, “The Mystery of McGuffin Manor”—Amy’s write-up
I’ve got things to do with my family this evening, so I opted to skip toying with the Clue-related theme to solve the puzzle within the crossword. You can read the theme explanation at Wordplay. If you solve the puzzle in .puz format, you’re missing the shading for the Clue “rooms” in nine sections of the grid, but it’s not hard to imagine they’re there with the clues and the puzzle notes. Short form: each “suspect” answer is the first name of a famous person with an occupational surname, ranging from TIKI Barber to GERARD Butler. The puzzle notes list the occupations, you match ’em up, follow the directions in the long theme clues/answers, and there you go. There’s also a MCGUFFIN spelled out around the black-squares plus sign in the center of the grid.
I was definitely distracted by the odd 81d. [Space to maneuver a ship], SEA ROOM (I’ve never captained a ship, so this wasn’t in my vocabulary) so close to 44d. [Major source of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere], SEAWEED, and with “room” in a couple of the theme clues. Why is an awkward, obscure entry like SEA ROOM in here at all given those other issues?
Not loving the chunkiness of the grid, with all those swaths of 6s and 7s—consider the NE corner, where the theme’s …CELEBRITIES and TIKI are the only required fill, but we get prefix ENTERO– and unpleasant NOOSES. I guess the grid chunks look more like rooms in Clue that way, but I count on puzzles to have good fill throughout and I wasn’t digging this one’s.
Hope you enjoyed this one more than I did!
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “A New Start” – Jim Q’s writeup
I was tipped off that I’d probably find this puzzle challenging today, and that wasn’t a lie. Probably the most difficult solve I’ve had with a themed WaPo!
THEME: Starts of words/phrases are moved forward and a new phrase is the result.
- 22A [Like old astronomical models positing that the sun revolves around Earth (1)] EGOCENTRIC. The G in GEOCENTRIC was moved forward.
- 26A [Unlocks (2)] PEONS. Not OPENS.
- 29A [Blood of the gods (3)] CHOIR. Instead of… ICHOR? That’s a new word for me.
- 39A [Dozed for a bit (4)] APPEND. Not NAPPED.
- 41A [Shredded, as cheese (5)] RATED G. Not GRATED.
- 53A [Gambling game (1)] AFRO. Not FARO.
- 55A [Acting Ken or Lena (2)] LION. Not OLIN.
- 68A [Concerning element of home inspections (3)] ADORN. Not RADON.
- 72A [“Haste makes ___” (4)] A STEW? That’s strange. But it’s definitely not WASTE.
- 83A [Has high hopes (5)] SPIREAS. Also new to me. Looks like a type of flower. Not ASPIRES.
- 89A [Guy who directed the 2019 “Aladdin” remake (6)] ITCHIER. Not RITCHIE.
- 98A [Served a sentence (7)] ONE TIMED. Not DONE TIME. Really wanted it to be DID TIME. DONE is a harder substitution, but it still works: He had served a sentence = He had done time.
One thing I didn’t notice until typing this up right now and highlighting the moving letter is that each letter is also moving forward, step by step. That’s an excellent touch, and I’m sure that added a lot of restraint. The left/right symmetry of the puzzle helping to execute the theme.
I will say that, for me, I solved this mostly as a themeless, and I much prefer puzzles where the theme helps me in the land of the fill. But I had a lot of difficulty seeing the theme to being with, and rarely was able to “back-solve” an area in order to help me. It felt like difficult anagrams! Like, I knew that I wanted the letters WASTE in the answer for 72A [“Haste makes ___” (4)]. But I couldn’t see A STEW. I knew I wanted GRATED, but I couldn’t see RATED G. ICHOR was completely new, so I had no hope of figuring out CHOIR. Same for SPIREAS, which autocorrect wants to fix right now.
ITCHIER/RITCHIE and APPEND/NAPPED were the only two pairs that synergistically helped one another during my solve.
Tough, but appreciated challenge all around! OREO O’S looks so weird in a grid, doesn’t it?
As a little bonus, this puzzle appears in a special edition of the Post Magazine called “America, Resilient,” which included stories about hope and building community amidst the pandemic. So both the theme and the title are especially apt.
Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword — “Symbolic Logic”
Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Paul Coulter’s name in the byline! Like, at least a month!
THEME: Element symbols that spell common names/words.
- 17A [Noted astronomer, or cobalt + phosphorus + erbium + nickel + copper + sulfur?] COPERNICUS.
- 32A [Small field, informally, or sodium + nobelium + tellurium + carbon + hydrogen?] NANOTECH.
- 39A [Chemical change, or rhenium + actinium + titanium + oxygen + nitrogen?] REACTION.
- 55A [Science of projectiles, or boron + aluminum + lithium + sulfur + titanium + cesium?] BALLISTICS.
Well, I like the idea here, but I’d be lying if I said I paid any attention to the actual elements part of the clues at all. Many of them I’ve never heard of and wouldn’t know their symbols anyway. But since the first part of the clue actually clues the correct answer, why bother looking at the harder second half? So this became more of a cerebral “Hmmm… interesting” thing for me.
Found this much more difficult than a typical Universal all around! Hang-up areas were 11D [Mature] ADULT since I had difficulty equating the two words, and 26D [Take impolitely] GRAB since I read the clue as “Talk impolitely” and refused to see it any other way.
Cool idea! But solved like a themeless in the end.
Alan Olschwang’s Universal crossword, “Fastenation”—Jim P’s review
Theme: Phrases with a hidden word naming some sort of fastener.
- 23a [Ladle, e.g.] KITCHEN UTENSIL. Well, you also need a bolt to go with it.
- 44a [Madeira or sherry] DESSERT WINE
- 67a [Self-employed truck driver, e.g.] OWNER-OPERATOR
- 93a [Worthless sorts] NE’ER-DO-WELLS. You’ll probably be using some glue with that dowel.
- 117a [Coverage for multiple people] GROUP INSURANCE
- 15d [Ocean motions] EBB AND FLOW
- 74d [American Dance Theater choreographer] ALVIN AILEY. I will always have a place in my heart for ALVIN AILEY who helped make my first crossword puzzle publishable. Despite that, I never saw the NAIL in his name.
Simple enough theme and just right for a Universal Sunday outing. I may be wrong, but I imagine the niche this puzzle (in general) is filling is one for easy 21xs—to give less experienced solvers something meatier, but still solvable within a short amount of time. Something to build up confidence before tackling trickier stuff. If that’s the case, this is a perfect fit for that niche.
Lively fill in TURN GREEN [Show envy, metaphorically], which could also work with a seasickness clue, ERNESTINE [Lily Tomlin character at a switchboard], “…one ringy-dingy..,” and UPPERCUT. PEPSICO is a little on the trickier side, especially for newcomers, but the rest of the long fill, RELEGATES, JUMPING UP, DESERTED, are solid, if not exciting. On the shorter side, I don’t care much for MSS and I’m not sure it’s widely known as the abbreviation for “manuscripts” outside the publishing world. This could’ve easily been MST or even YSL which I believe to be more common abbreviations.
Clues of note:
- 5a. [“Star Trek: Picard” android]. DATA. No spoilers, please, as my wife and I are about mid-way through the season. We’re enjoying it, but trying to get used to curse words in the Star Trek Universe.
- 104d. [What you do with your buds?]. TASTE. Tricky but fun clue. Hopefully you’re not tasting your buds.
Straightforward and speedy puzzle. 3.5 stars.
Pam Amick Klawitter’s LA Times crossword, “Top to Bottom” – Jenni’s write-up
Today’s theme answers are all Down and all have “down” in the clue.
- 4d [Downwind] is KITE–FLYING NECESSITY. Wind is necessary for flying kites, and the answer goes down, so there you are.
- 5d [Downgrade] is KINDERGARTEN.
- 19d [Downstream] is YOUTUBE TRANSMISSION.
- 10d [Downplay] is THE CRUCIBLE.
- 24d [Downward] is JUNE CLEAVER‘S HUSBAND. This one made me giggle.
- 67d [Downcast] is THEATER GROUP.
- 70d [Downdraft] is an ORDER IN A PUB.
I liked this theme even though it’s not really wordplay and it’s not that challenging. It was consistent and fresh, at least to me.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that TESTAE are seed coats of acorns. I did not need to know that.
I enjoyed the “clues” of the NYT, and appreciated the balance of one East Coast school (CUNY) and one West Coast school (UofA). However, I think that three Greek letters (32A backwards, 51D, and 99D) was a bit much.
NYT: Brilliant! Loved it! Puzzle within a puzzle, which is something I really enjoy.
NYT puzzle was a bit different and I really enjoyed it! Most enjoyable puzzle I’ve solved in a long time! Kudos to Andrew Chaiken for coming up with a puzzle that challenged your solving, but also included a mystery!
I have to agree with Amy, I didn’t enjoy this one at all. The notes read like a boring textbook. Then Tim Cook, an apple sweatshirt, and look to the left. Big deal, so what, no fun. Spelling out MCGUFFIN around the center cross was a a nice touch though, that was clever.
I guess I was right yesterday that the NYT might annoy some puz fans, although it doesn’t seem that big a leap to work at the theme even without the bright yellow shading. Of course, I once again proved lousy at metas. I did know that Tim Cook is from Apple, but I kept searching for a sweatshirt and not finding it, or am I missing something? Otherwise perfectly fine. I’m also lousy at proper names and didn’t recognize TIKI or “Hungry,” but no big deal. I wouldn’t know HOW to rate the puzzle.
Amen to all, but as a retired sea captain “sea room” was a gift, a godsend, and a joy to find in a Sunday go. The rest of it…not so much!
The NYT is a very cool concept; my fault was just not knowing some celebrity names (I had to look a couple up), so that part was lost on me a bit. I’ll trade a SEA ROOM for a creative Sunday puzzle though!
Thought it was great fun, more than most NY Times Sunday’s.
Without even starting the NYT seems incredibly hokey, but I’m going to try it, on paper first. Will see if I eat my words.
NYT like solving 10 MINI puzzles. Nothing horribly offensive unless you have a relative who hanged herself and you’re put off by NOOSE. I fit the first but not the second, it’s a word.
So the positives are that almost anyone can do this Sunday NYT puzzle and check off a life event if it is needed. The clues/answers are generally very solid. The MCGUFFIN is a nice inclusion. The META(?) isn’t too hard and very NYT.
Negatives – a lot of work for not much, not very stimulating.
But I do love a good Venn Diagram.
(not very many stars, sorry)
“I was tipped off that I’d probably find this puzzle challenging today, and that wasn’t a lie. ” – led me to do the WaPo. That was a really nice puzzle, wish I had done on paper so I could have marked the moving letters as I needed to count which clue order was present as I figured it out with GEO/EGO CENTRIC being into Astronomy.
THAT said, that was a superior 21×21 (lol, this a 20×21), usually not my preference (Especially NYT).
“One thing I didn’t notice until typing this up right now and highlighting the moving letter is that each letter is also moving forward, step by step.”
The shifted letters read GOING FORWARD!
I am not one for gimmicks at all, but I quite enjoyed the crossword and the mystery! Part of the reason is that the grid solved quickly so I could spend some time pondering the extra clues. Also, Apple and Tim Cook made this interesting.
Yes, I was aware of that. That was in the revealer clue itself. And I highlighted the letters to emphasize this.
I thought the WaPo theme was kind of fun. I managed to catch on to the meaning of the numbers in the themer clues early on, so unlike Jim Q’s experience, the theme was helpful in the solve.
Didn’t care for the clue at 13-D. In my household, a DISH RAG is wet, and used to wash the dishes (and the range). A DISH towel is a drying cloth.
Gary is right. In the days before automatic dishwashers, a wet dishrag did the washing and a dish towel did the drying, both wielded by a person. I dare say Mr. Birnholz is probably too young to have washed dishes back in the day.
For eight years (from 2010-2018) I lived in apartments where none of them had automatic dishwashers and I still wash and dry a lot of dishes by hand today, so no, you’re not right about that.
So, does that mean you’ve been using the dish rag for the wrong purpose all these years? ;-)
LAT was the only puzzle I enjoyed this morning. NYT was annoying; UC was “so what?”; UCS was trivial; WaPo was okay, but the numbers made no sense to me until the end, so I just treated it as an unclued anagram puzzle, and ASTEW & RITCHIE & ONETIMED were pretty ugly IMO. I might have been more impressed by a 123456654321 sequence than 123451234567.
I was OK with the NYT puzzle… though I wouldn’t want to make it a habit. The crossword was on the tough side for a Sunday, IMO– the puzzle after the crossword was simple, once I understood the setup. Entertaining for today, but once was enough. The WaPo puzzle was crunchier than usual, which was good.
NYT very fun theme… and SEA ROOM was my favorite clue, as this was one of my late father’s favorite books, and we read a passage from it at my wedding, after he passed.
A well-made boat as a metaphor for marriage…
“All the principles of sea-kindliness, of robustness of construction and yet lightness of form,of a craft designed to protect its crew and save their lives…” (p.20)
One more thing. The paper version has 2 squares numbered 92, so the clues at 92, 93 and 94 down are all shifted one to the right. A printing boo-boo or another McGuffin?
WaPo: ONETIMED? what language does this word live in? I can accept anagrams to reach but this one had me spit my coffee. Boo Hiss.
It’s a term from hockey. One-timing refers to shooting the puck immediately after a teammate passes it, without the player trying to handle it with their stick first.
It wasn’t my favorite entry either but it was a compromise I made to spell out GOING FORWARD with the appropriate number of spaces since the alternatives were really, really limited. The only other word I found that starts with a D and becomes another legitimate word by moving it exactly seven spaces to the right was DENOUNCE –> ENOUNCED, and I liked that one less than DONE TIME –> ONE-TIMED. I ran into this problem a lot; the only other word I found that starts with an R and could make another legit word by moving it six spaces to the right was REVOLVES –> EVOLVERS.
Okay. I retract my comment about one-timed being ugly. Never heard of it as a verb. :)
NYT. I figured out the Tim Cook angle, but I haven’t played Clue in an eon and I talked myself into thinking the Hall was the Study. And though it made no sense, one room to the West contains the Hope Diamond which I was sure was the answer. “Hope Diamond” starts with HO at 97 down, drops SW to the P of 90 down “step in” and then up one to the E of “step in” and that forms a diamond (and it it rhymes with P) and that spells “HOPE.”