Sunday, June 21, 2020

LAT 8:21 (Jenni) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:00 (Jim Q) 


Universal (Sunday) 9:32 (Jim P) 


Byron & Harrison Walden’s New York Times crossword, “Animal Crossings”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 6 21 20, “Animal Crossings”

Happy Father’s Day to the papas! Today’s constructors are Byron Walden and his young son, Harrison. The “Animal Crossings” theme isn’t about the video game, it’s about phrases that can be clued as if they’re the collision of two different sorts of animals:

  • 26a. [A group of them may be called a memory], ELEPHANTS / 5d. [School group], FISH. These two answers cross at the H.
  • 24a. [What do you get when you cross 26-Across with a 5-Down?], SWIMMING TRUNKS. Fish swim, elephants have trunks.
  • 63a. [Coop group], CHICKENS / 45d. [Ika, at a sushi bar], SQUID. No “group” in the SQUID clue (none of the subsequent themers have “group” clues, so it’s weird the first three animals did), but when you cross chickens with squid, you get:
  • 57a. [What do you get when you cross 63-Across with a 45-Down?], EXTRA DRUMSTICKS. Ten legs per chicken rather than the standard two.
  • 77a. [Creatures that can have two sets of jaws and teeth], EELS / 40d. [What’s known for its poker face?], RHINOCEROS. That’s a great RHINO clue!
  • 82a. [What do you get when you cross 77-Across with a 40-Down?], ELECTRIC CHARGES. A charging rhino, electric eel.
  • 114a. [“___ in the Garden” (Robert Frost poem)], FIREFLIES / 93d. [Smallest of the big cats], CHEETAH. I haven’t seen any lightning bugs (which is what we call ’em in this part of the country) blinking yet this summer.
  • 116a. [What do you get when you cross 114-Across with a 93-Down?], LIGHTNING SPEED.

Fresh theme, kinda fun. You can almost hear the woeful dad jokes and a kid’s delighted laugh for each “What do you get when you cross…” riddle. Congrats to Harrison on his constructorial debut!


Five more things:

  • 25d. [Geographical locale whose name means “waterless place”], GOBI. Did I know that piece of trivia? Probably.
  • 13a. [Iranian president Rouhani], HASSAN. I wondered why HASSAN wasn’t clued as comedian Minhaj, but it turns out he spells it Hasan Minhaj, one S. He’s got a Netflix series called Patriot Act, basically him standing up and talking to the audience, and he recently had an impassioned and not funny episode, basically addressing Asian Americans. The video is below. (Content warning: photos depicting police violence, salty language.)
  • 56a. [“Cheese” products?], SMILES. Terrific clue.
  • 105d. [Hen], BIDDY. Ugh. A gendered word used primarily to insult women. You can clue it as a barnyard [Hen] all you want, but hey, hen also gets used to insult women.
  • 87a. [Dandelion look-alike], CAT’S EAR. Never heard of this before. 103a. [Napoleonic symbol], HONEYBEE. A bit of trivia I didn’t know. The puzzle’s theme is less elegant with these one and a half animal entries jostling around near the theme entries.

Four stars from me.



Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Like Father, Like Son” – Jim Q’s writeup

It would’ve been easy for Evan to use me and my dad as themers. We have the same name.

Washington Post, June 21, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Like Father, Like Son” solution grid

THEME: Schrödinger puzzle where either the father or son’s first name works in both the down/across positions.


  • 20D [*Actor in the 1979 western comedy “Wanda Nevada”] HENRY or PETER FONDA. The Schrödinger crosses are HENS/PENSSKIN/SKIT, BRAN/BEAN, and YEAR/REAR.
  • 77A [*Musician who performed with the Plastic Ono Band] JOHN or SEAN LENNON. JINGLE/SINGLE, ORS/ERS, HIRED/AIRED. 
  • 139A [Q: Between the father and the son, which is the answer to each starred clue? A: ___] BOTH. 


  • 38A [Son’s affectionate nickname for his father] DEAR OLD DAD. 
  • 111A [Proud father’s expression about his son] THAT’S MY BOY. 

Wow. Just wow. Sometimes Schrödinger puzzles are criticized with “cool-but-it’s-been-done-before”  side eye, but this is exceptional. For me, the best part was that AHA moment when I got to 139A as I had not realized up to that point what was going on. My down themers looked like a mess because I had a mishmash of “correct” answers in the crosses.

The thing that’s really beautiful about this is that the same clue can be used for both the father and the son, showing that bond between the two. And the title emphasizes that. And of course, the timing couldn’t be better as it’s Father’s Day (Mother’s Day got the better treatment last year! This year dad is up!) Fascinating that in order to pull this off, you need both the father and son in the same AREA who have the same number of letters in the first name. How many can there be?

This may look light on themers, but it’s not at all, as those crosses put an exceptionally tight constraint on the grid. From a solver’s perspective, until the AHA comes, this might feel a bit like a themeless, but I’ll take it any day when all of a sudden you suck in your breath and stare wide eyed at the grid when you realize what’s going on.

Two things tripped me up: 41D [“Gone Girl” actress Pike] crossing my least favorite recurring clue: [Kid’s curt retort] (I never know what this is… it could be anything… in this case DOES TOO), and Emma SAMMS. But really, the most remarkable part of the fill is that the Schrödinger crosses don’t feel forced, or if the do, it’s smile-inducing like 87A [Put to work at a radio station, say] HIRED/AIRED.

I don’t usually star-rate the WaPo, but this is a solid 5 in my book.

UPDATE: There’s a nifty homage to Evan’s own father if you read the across clues carefully- check it out:


I can hear him saying “That’s my boy!” Well done, Evan.


Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword — “You Send Me”

Just noticed the title now. Perfect.

THEME: Common phrases that end with something that might be delivered by the USPS.

Universal crossword solution · “You Send Me” · Winston Emmons · Sun., 6.21.20


  • 20A [*Big character?] CAPITAL LETTER. 
  • 31A [*Tone held for a measure] WHOLE NOTE. 
  • 44A [*Source of a decisive advantage] TRUMP CARD. 
  • 55A [*Compensation offering] SALARY PACKAGE. 
  • 61A [Org. that delivers the starred answers’ ends] USPS. 

This is about as over-the-plate as it gets! Very straightforward theme, and an ideal Universal puzzle for newer solvers to get their feet wet. It introduces some crosswordese while not going too nutty, and the theme is super consistent and transparent once the revealer is uncovered.

AIELLO crossing ANALGESIA was a bit rough for me, but since the fill has to run through two themers (PACKAGE and USPS), we’ll forgive it!

Solid 3 star puzzle.



C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword, “Back to Basics” – Jenni’s write-up

If I were better at cryptics, I’d probably have figured out the theme from the title. Since I’m not good at cryptics despite following Stella’s blog, I didn’t know what was going on until I got to the revealer.

I noticed all the Bs in the theme answers.

Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2020, “Back to Basics,” C.C. Burnikel, solution grid

  • 23a [“Match Game” host] is ALEC BALDWIN. I had no idea “Match Game” was back (and apparently has been for several years). I grew up on the original version hosted by Gene Rayburn. So much sexist leering and innuendo and so many sexist stereotypes. I hope the new version is better. Since I still think of Baldwin as the man who called his 11-year-old daughter a “pig” on a voicemail during a custody dispute, I’m not all that hopeful.
  • 29a [The mariachi’s guitarrón is one] is an ACOUSTIC BASS.
  • 45a [Whole Foods fruit] are ORGANIC BANANAS. Yes, we have organic bananas in the house and no, they did not come from Whole Foods. Why would we drive past Wegmans to get to Whole Foods? Answer: we would not.
  • 66a [Pollution concerns] are PLASTIC BAGS.
  • 72a [Stretchable loop] is an ELASTIC BAND.
  • 92a [Widespread adverse reaction, as to a new policy] is a PUBLIC BACKLASH, like the one you get if you’re a public figure and you leave your daughter a vicious, sexist voicemail.
  • 108a [Item in Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass”] is a PICNIC BASKET.
  • 118a [Pungent deli choice] is an ONION BAGEL. Nice touch to have that cross EGGS for a hearty breakfast.

And the revealer: 114d [Basics appearing in reverse in eight puzzle answers], ABCS. “Back” in the title is a signal for reversals in cryptic clues. I learned that from Stella. I’m dipping my toe in the cryptic waters with the archive of Puns and Anagrams at the NYT.

Back to this puzzle: It’s a solid, smooth, Sunday theme. It’s not my favorite kind of theme, which is entirely personal taste. This is well-executed and a nice diversion for a lovely Sunday morning.

Happy Father’s Day to all the STEPDADS, granddads, foster dads, and other dad-figures who might not be recognized today, and compassion to all those for whom this day is difficult.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: the current incarnation of “Match Game.” I also didn’t know there was a Chinese smartphone brand called OPPO or that MIA Hamm hails from Alabama, and I’ve never heard of the ENYA album “Watermark.” Here’s the title track. Don’t listen while you’re driving.

Adam Vincent’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Parting Words”—Jim P’s review

I was wondering how best to explain the theme when I realized I didn’t have to; the title does a pretty good job of it. But to be a little more verbose about it, the Across theme answers identify a word—cryptic-clue-style—which is spread apart in the circled letters of the Down theme answers.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Parting Words” · Adam Vincent · Sun., 6.21.20

  • 37a SPACED OUT leads to 6d COOL YOUR JETS
  • 89a BED SPREAD leads to 61d BROKEN DREAMS

Wow! Wow Wow Wow! Here’s the thing. Actually here are a few things:

  • Each theme entry is a fun in-the-language phrase capable of standing on its own and is an asset to any puzzle in which it appears.
  • Each pair of theme answers crosses(!).
  • Some theme answers (the first and the last) cross more than one theme answer(!).
  • No circled letter in the Down answers is adjacent to another circled letter (i.e. they are all spread out). An elegant touch, given the theme, which may have negated more than a few potential theme answers.
  • Twelve (yes, twelve) long, interlaced, and fun theme answers in one grid is phenomenal.

With all that theme material as interwoven as it is, you’d expect a lot of crud in the fill. But somehow the reverse is true. Look at all this good stuff: COIN-OPS, LOVETAP, FROWN UPON, BEARHUG, MADCAP, BIG EAST, FLAMBES, BUTCHERED (pronunciation), SNIPERS (certain eBayers as opposed to riflemen (rifle people?)), and Sofia COPPOLA. Sure there are some bland entries, too, like HAD A SEAT, BETTER AT, RE-RAISE, SAY NO TO, but they’re all gettable. The one challenging area is probably the crossing of TEMPEH [Tofu relative] and MOHS [___ scale, on which quartz is a 7]. But other than that, impressive fill given the theme density.

One clue of note: 4d. [Jake and ___ (comedy duo)]. AMIR. I don’t know these guys, probably because I’m old. They’re two former CollegeHumor writers with their own podcast and hundreds of Youtube videos. If you’ve got a favorite bit of theirs, feel free to link to it in the comments.

Impressively executed theme with equally impressive fill. 4.2 stars.

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24 Responses to Sunday, June 21, 2020

  1. Bryan says:

    NYT: Dude! My fastest ever Sunday time on this one. 23:17 — which is nowhere close to Amy Reynaldo time, but is maybe about half the time a typical Sunday puzzle usually takes me. A nice Father’s Day gift from the crossword gods! There seemed to be a lot of short fill in this, which made the solve feel a bit choppy. But I solved this one pretty much continously from start to finish. I love when I can do a puzzle that way. It was LIGHTNING SPEED, you might say, like FIREFLIES and a CHEETAH. Was this one particularly easier than usual, or was it the cucumber mint julep (with a little extra bourbon) I was sipping on as I solved? Or both? Who knows? (I solved this on Saturday night, lest you think I spend my Sunday mornings sitting around drinking mint juleps.)

  2. Mark Abe says:

    I had to look this up and discovered that the 2020 Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for September 5, which thus becomes the day for my annual mint julep. I also tend to do the Sunday puzzle on Saturday, but if I do it on Sunday morning I may have a mimosa.

  3. pannonica says:

    NYT: Clue for CHEETAH needs a qualifier of some sort, such as ‘according to some’.

    Depending on how you look at it, this could also describe clouded leopard (my choice), snow leopard, or even eurasian lynx.

  4. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    Cute puzzle. I liked that 70-D could have been clued either as “Business class, for short,” or as “Non-business class, for short.”

  5. JohnH says:

    Whole NY Times was’t on my wavelength, feeling not exactly hard but mostly junk fill. Hated it. But must admit I still don’t get the connection between SQUID and EXTRA or why rhinos are poker faced.

    • pannonica says:

      • Squid have 8 arms (≈ ‘chicken wings’) and two tentacles. I suppose you could consider the arms to be legs, in which case they ≈ ‘chicken drumsticks’, which is significantly more than the standard complement of two.

      • Since rhinoceros are known to charge, using their horn as a defensive weapon, that could be considered ‘poking’ an enemy.

      • Judith Speer says:

        Thank you! Didn’t get poker faced either. Now I love it!

      • PJ says:

        How do you stop a rhinoceros from charging? A dad joke on fathers day.

        LAT – Mia Hamm was born in Selma. Her father was stationed at Craig Field. She doesn’t really have any ties to the area. At least none that I know of.

  6. RichardZ says:

    C.C. Burnikel is a favorite constructor, so not too surprisingly, I enjoyed today’s LAT puzzle – clever title and unforced theme entries. The only awkward item was 125A (CMERE). Cmon (for c’mon) – okay, but cmere? Um, yeah, no.

  7. Michael P Herlihy says:

    LAT – ONION BAGEL was not a theme answer. You mixed your allium veggies. It’s GARLIC BAGEL and ONION TART. :-)

  8. tom pepper says:

    Universal: I rarely comment, but felt compelled to today. This was one of the most enjoyable Sunday puzzles I’ve ever solved. So many great long entries and so little glue. Kudos and thanks to Adam and David!

    • norm says:

      Agree. This was the best of today’s puzzles. NYT did nothing for me. WaPo was a fun theme, but … I won’t say what I thought about the rest of the grid.

      • M483 says:

        Loved, loved Sun. Universal! Two things drove me crazy in a funny way. I really wanted 61 Down, “broken dreams,” to be a hint for another theme answer. It actually confused me that it had B – E – D circled! I also couldn’t understand for the longest time what happened to the “n” in restaurateurs (54 Down). It finally dawned on me, but I’ll probably never remember to pronounce it correctly.

      • It’s fine with me if it wasn’t your favorite, but I wrote my puzzle as a personal gesture to my dad, who got me into crosswords in the first place. I’ll stand by it, along with the rest of the grid, any time.

        • Norm says:

          Pay no attention to me, Evan. I’m “Mr. Grumpy” on some other websites, and I chose that moniker intentionally. The three-letter stuff was just a bit much for me today. But, as I said, I loved the theme. :)

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Agree – This was outstanding. As Jim Said, WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW!

  9. Mary A says:

    I don’t recall a Sunday puzzle that I enjoyed completing less than this one. The themed clues seem forced rather than clever. The too-frequent clues with prepositions in parentheses were for me a mark of weak construction.

  10. Scott says:

    NYT. Enjoyed the puzzle. One thing would have made it even better. If the four squares where rhe animals intersected actually spelled something theme related rather than HIEE.

  11. Brenda Rose says:

    Logging off in Sonoma County California & adding my 2 cents.
    Evan deserves a medal for Beat Father’s Day xword. I miss my Daddy.

  12. Vic says:

    I enjoyed the Waldens’ NYT puzzle a lot, EXCEPT for the crossings of “Cactus bump” ( AREOLE) and “Dandelion look-alike” (CATSEAR). Am I the only one who thought this was a classic Natick? (And ALIF crossing ANIMA doesn’t seem much better!)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The strangest thing was seeing Caitlin’s Wordplay post on the puzzle and encountering this re CAT’S EAR: “It’s fun to see this crossed with CTSCAN, which might have helped people with their deductions, and maybe a little fun (after the fact) to see this crossed with AREOLE, which comes with a botanical clue.” Say what? How is either of these things “fun”?

  13. Crotchety Doug says:

    Evan’s Sunday WaPo pretty good as I almost finished, figuring maybe a four. THEN(!) got to 139A. Looked back and realized that there were several circled squares that could have gone differently. Gave them a closer look and re-filled them in with two letters each, containing both names. I love these “Schrodinger” puzzles, but this was the best, and on Father’s Day, to boot. I didn’t even spot the vertical clue tribute that Jim Q spotted. 5 1/2 stars!

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