Sunday, June 14, 2020

LAT 8:33 (Jenni) 


NYT 10:29 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal tk (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Randolph Ross’s New York Times crossword, “Making Arrangements”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 6 14 20, “Making Arrangements”

The “Making Arrangements” title suggested, cryptic crossword–style, that the theme would feature anagrams. Glancing at the cross-referenced pairs of theme clues and not having any idea what a single theme answer would be, I groaned and was prepared to dislike the puzzle. Turns out, I kinda dig the theme:

  • 23a. [Sign at a chemical plant: “This facility is ___ — ___” (with 114-Across)], with its twin entry, clues CONTAMINATED—NO ADMITTANCE. 23a and 114a are anagrams of each other, as are the other theme pairs.
  • 31a. [Question to an English teacher: “Why did Poe write his poem “___”? Answer: “___?” (with 98-Across)], “A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM,” “WHAT AM I, A MIND READER?” Not familiar with the poem, but the second half of this pair is a great sentence to find in a crossword grid.
  • 45a. [We can tell the boss’s assistant is a ___ because he always ___ (with 87-Across)], SYCOPHANT / ACTS PHONY.
  • 50a. [My weight increases when traveling because ___ during ___ (with 84-Across)], I AM NOT ACTIVE / VACATION TIME. This I AM NOT ACTIVE feels pretty blah compared to the rest of the themers.
  • 64a. [Someone who is ___ years old now will be ___ in six years (with 68-Across)], FORTY-FIVE / OVER FIFTY. I did find this pair on a National Puzzlers’ League page of anagrams, but not the others. And there are a lot of meh anagram pairs that feel forced on that page, whereas the theme pairs are pretty good.

There may be other anagram pages on the Internet that include all the themers, but if there is, certainly a vast majority of solvers have never seen it. I have seen apt anagrams before, such as ASTRONOMER /MOON STARER, but none of Randy’s themers rang a bell for me.

Things I marked while solving so I would remember to mention them here:

  • 16d. [Jackie Robinson, in his only year in the Negro Leagues], MONARCH. Got this one off the H! Always pleased with myself if I know a sports thing other the the crosswordese jocks and terms like ORR OTT ESPO TED RBI ERA and so on. This entry crosses another sports term, FACE MASK, which makes me think it’s weird we all talk about masks rather than “face masks” during this pandemic. And now I wonder why the thing on a football helmet bothers with the word “face.” What other sort of mask would a helmet have?
  • 29d. [“___ So Unusual,” debut album by Cyndi Lauper], SHE’S. I bought that record album in high school. I know everyone remembers “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” but my favorite track is the ballad “Time After Time.”
  • 36a. [Ingredients in mulled wine], CLOVES. I feel like the clue should say ingredient in the singular. Aren’t a handful of cloves a single ingredient?
  • 39a. [“Everything’s ready on my end”], I’M SET. Meh answer, and that I’M is so close to I AM NOT ACTIVE. See also: 57a. [Ice pads?], IGLOOS near 43d. [Sit out on a frozen lake, say], ICE FISH. Too much ice for June!
  • 96d. [Put in a good word?], EDITED. Cute clue.
  • 108d. [Snick and ___], SNEE. Crosswordese, and crossing the fairly uncommonly seen word TEASELS. I predict some solvers get snagged here.

Four stars from me. I rather enjoyed the puzzle, which too often is not the case in Sunday-sized puzzles.

Yaakov Bendavid & Yoni Glatt’s LA Times crossword, “Exchangeable Parts” – Jenni’s write-up

I figured out the theme in the first few seconds, which was fine – the theme answers were still fun to uncover. This is a well-executed and enjoyable theme undercut by some unpleasant fill.

Let’s start with the theme. Each theme answer is a three-word phrase with the first and third words swapped for a wacky effect.

Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2020, Yaakov Bendavid & Yoni Glatt, “Exchangeable Parts,” solution grid

  • 22d [What a nervous director may do?] is PACE THE SET. I don’t need to tell you that the base phrase is “set the pace,” do I? Didn’t think so.
  • 23a [Fault a rearrangement of infielders?] is BLAME THE SHIFT.
  • 35a [Gives surf ratings?] is RANKS THE SWELLS.
  • 55a [Arranges for party chefs?] is BOOKS THE COOKS.
  • 66d [Block an access road between hills?] is BAR THE PASS.
  • 78a [Masters yoga?] is RULES THE BENDS.
  • 97a [Ask, “You sure this is diet?”?] is QUESTION THE POP where POP is soda (as in the Midwest of the US).
  • 114a [Emulate a Jedi?] is ISSUE THE FORCE. I thought the Jedi channeled the Force.

Except for my tiny quibble with the last one, this is a solid, fun theme.

Unfortunately, the fill is not as sparkly as the theme. I didn’t much care for AMBLERS at 1d, and I bet some people had trouble with the density of names in that corner, including LILA McCann, ADALINE (movie role), biblical entries DELILAH and ELI and SHEEN at the bottom. The unfortunately plurals continue with CRESSES. We also have SHAK as an abbreviation for Shakespeare – never seen that in or out of crosswords.  I could also have done without partials A HAT  and NOWS, as well as AREOIBEX, and OEDS (ridiculous plural part III). Every section of the crossword had at least one entry that made me wish I’d borrowed the scowl-o-meter from Amy.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: three of the names I cited in the NW – LILA McCann, ADALINE, who was apparently played by Blake Lively, and whichever SHEEN was in “Lucas.” I’ve heard of the Sheens, but didn’t know any of them was in that movie (I looked it up. It was Charlie).

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Day Shift” – Jim Q’s writeup

A good reminder that there are other days of the week! I’ve been stuck in a Tuesday for a few months…

THEME: Days of the week are removed from one phrase and “shifted” into another- both of which get the wacky clue treatment.

Washington Post, June 14, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Day Shift” solution grid


  • 23A [Prizes at the beginning of strip poker?] and 25A [Preachy primates?] BELT STAKES / SERMON APES. It is no longer the BELMONT STAKES, and SERAPES has been altered (not by a tailor either).
  • 35A [Time spent in prison?]  and 40A [Rickey liquor for the righteous?] CON STINT / VIRTUE GIN. From CONSTITUENT / VIRGIN.
  • 50A [Attention given to Mr. Magritte or Ms. Russo?] and 54A [Mr. Mineo’s amazed?] RENE INTEREST / SAL’S AWEDRENEWED INTEREST / SALSA.
  • 66A [Chauffeur’s offering to a Wharton grad?] and 70A [Warm embrace from Ernie’s roommate?] MBA RIDE / BERT HUG. THUMB A RIDE / BERG.
  • 87A [Some Pro Bowl linemen?] and 90A [Otter’s playful way of entering the water, say?] BEST ENDS / FRISKY DIVING. BEST FRIENDS / SKY DIVING. I would like to know what other clues didn’t make the cut for FRISKY DIVING.
  • 96A [Arsonist’s mode of transportation?] and 101A [Hair product handled by the devil?] BLAZE RAIL / SATAN GEL. BLAZES A TRAIL / ANGEL.
  • 120A [University whose students are renowned for their brilliance?] and 122A [Chucky at the bottom of the ocean, e.g.?] SHINE STATE / SUNKEN DOLL. 

I took a mini road trip before solving this puzzle, and I plenty of time to consider the title, “Day Shift” (and this is one of those puzzles where if you don’t consider the title, you may be scratching your head at the theme). I figured it would be something like this, but my guess was that the “shift” would happen within a single answer. To give a (bad) example of what I thought was going to happen, instead of BELMONT STAKES, it might be BELT STAKES, MON! clued with a Jamaican flair. Evan’s execution is, of course, much more satisfying as it doubles the number of themers and is tighter throughout.

Most of the resulting phrases landed solidly, perhaps the only exception being the last set since the alteration didn’t completely change from the base phrase (STATE and DOLL are still key parts of SUNSHINE STATE and KEN DOLL). I guess that happens with a couple other entries as well, but it was most noticeable to me with that pair. I also enjoyed it more when the base phrases were lively (like RENEWED INTEREST as opposed to BERG). But with so many theme entries, it would be impossible for them all to be two-word phrases to begin with.

Things to note that are par for Evan’s work, but shouldn’t be overlooked:

  • The days of the week go in order from North to South.
  • The shift always moves from the west side of the pair to the east.
  • There is no other fill in themed rows.
  • The wackiness of the clues and resulting phrases is over-the-top (if you’re gonna go wacky, don’t be shy!)
  • Fun and timely fill. 

Liked the clue for APU [“The Problem With ___” (2017 film focusing on a “Simpsons” character)]. If you haven’t seen it, it’s very much worth watching. Read about why Hank Azaria stopped voicing APU here.

Thanks, Evan, for fun on this SUN today! Really enjoyed this one today.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Opening Notes”—Jim P’s review

Theme: As the title indicates, each theme answer is a modified phrase with an added musical note in front.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Opening Notes” · Zhouqin Burnikel · Sun., 6.14.20

  • 23a [Learning facilities with rounded roofs?] DOMED SCHOOLS. Med schools.
  • 34a [Damage control for mall tenants?] RETAIL SPIN. Tailspin.
  • 44a [Author who moves from place to place?] MIGRANT WRITER. Grant writer.
  • 66a [Unavoidable discussions?] FATED TALKS. TED Talks.
  • 69a [Well-made sheriff’s star?] SOLID BADGE. I.D. badge.
  • 89a [Most current design?] LATEST PATTERN. Test pattern.
  • 98a [Exhausted dog?] TIRED ROVER. Red Rover.
  • 113a [Words of wisdom next to a prescription?] DOSAGE ADVICE. Sage advice.

Nice, musical theme. My only nit would be that I wish the added letters sounded like the notes. For example, I wish the TI addition in the seventh theme entry sounded like “tee.” But there aren’t many words that fit that criterion beyond tiara, tiki, and Timor, so maybe it just wasn’t possible.

The title reminds me of the old game show, Name That Tune, where contestants had to guess the title of a song based on hearing the fewest opening notes. I want to say there was a reboot of that show, but don’t hold me to it.

Moving on to the fill, Zhouqin is known (to me, anyway) for always including fun, colloquial phrases in her grid, but I’m not seeing too many in this grid. But there’s still plenty of solid lengthy material to go around. REN-FAIRE tops my list of fun stuff, and there’s also BARSTOOL, OAT BRAN, MISS USA, BECKETT, ROTH IRA, “NO ENTRY,” MADONNA, SNO-CONE, and PATREON, the creator-oriented website. In the scowl-worthy category, BOO AT, earned my boos, but that’s about it.

One clue of note: 47a. [Voice actress Strong]. TARA. I don’t remember this name, and I’m having to look up the work that she’s done (Rugrats, Powerpuff Girls, Fairly OddParents, Teen Titans, etc.), but I want to say how cool it is that the constructor and/or editor chose to highlight a voice actor here. If you have any interest in learning about the world of voice acting—and even if you don’t—I highly, highly, highly recommend the documentary I Know That Voice, which is streaming here (with ads). I guarantee there will be something in there that will surprise you. I took one voice acting class once, and if I could pursue it, I would, but it sounds like an incredibly tough and competitive business.

Solid theme and fill, as usual, where ZB is concerned. 3.5 stars.

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10 Responses to Sunday, June 14, 2020

  1. David Steere says:

    WaPo: I loved that all the “movements” in Evan’s puzzle were to the left. How fitting. ;-)

  2. MattF says:

    Not enamored of the NYT. I’m fine with anagrams– I do cryptic puzzles regularly– but most of the anagrams in the puzzle are too long to help a solver. They’re admirable, but useless. I don’t think it’s an accident that what felt like the best anagram in the puzzle is also the shortest. That said, I also got stuck for a while at that little block in the East with NANNY, TOTS, and ATEAT, not sure why.

  3. JohnH says:

    I was very impressed by the NYT. Asking for long anagrams like that seems sure to produce things less than idiomatic or forced excuses for synonyms. Then having so many long themers seems sure to produce lots of bad fill elsewhere. Instead, it all felt downright clever. The only obscure ones to me were BILKO and KASEM.

    So much near to unclued also had the advantage that it took longer than usual to hit on the theme, for a harder than usual Sunday, but one that fell much more quickly, for that satisfying sense, once I got the theme. So overall terrific.

  4. PJ says:

    Happy (late) Anniversary Amy and Fiends! I like Amy and Fiends a lot better than Fox and Friends.

    LAT 39a – wouldn’t an artery be the way from one’s heart?

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    Another masterpiece from Evan. Brilliant.

    • MattF says:

      Agree. I solved the puzzle without getting the theme, but after a moment of post-puzzle pondering was duly impressed. Everything just clicks into place.

      • Norm says:

        Same here. I loved this puzzle — even though I was embarrassingly slow in figuring out what was going on in the left side. I was all the way down to BEST ENDS before the light bulb went on, and then it was so much fun to pause and go back to the beginning to figure out the other half of each theme row. Best kind of AHA moment. What a joy after the dismal slog that was today’s NYT offering.

  6. Jim Horne says:

    I realize I’m late to this party, but Congratulations, Amy, on 15 Years of Fiendish Explication. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. Brava!

  7. Thanks, all.

    Jim, I didn’t have any alternate clues for FRISKY DIVING. I settled on the otter angle pretty early on and stuck with it. However, there were a few different theme answers in the first draft of the puzzle that got ripped out of the grid during testing. The second Thursday answer and second Sunday answer were TO THUMB and SUNTAN GENT, respectively, but my test-solvers urged me to take them both out since the other theme answers on the same rows were based on phrases with either “thumb” or “sun” with the same meaning. It was a strange form of theme duplication that hadn’t occurred to me could be a problem, but hopefully the new phrases ended up being better options anyhow.

    p.s. Happy 15th birthday, Fiend! Next year you’ll be able to get a driver’s license in some states.

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