Sunday, August 9, 2020

LAT 7:00 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:48 (Amy) 


WaPo 18:35 (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:47 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:27 (Jim P) 


Ruth Bloomfield Margolin’s New York Times crossword, “Craft Show”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 8 9 20, “Craft Show”

Okay, let’s see if I can make sense of the after-the-fact/after-the-solve theme. The revealer is 66a. [In perfect order … or, as two words, what’s formed by applying the answers for the five starred clues to the circled letters], SHIP-SHAPE. The other themers are:

  • 48a. [*Winter vacation destination], SKI SLOPE. The O is circled, with a RELO crossing. How is that O rendered meaningful by “applying” SKI SLOPE to it? I can’t tell you. After reckoning with the next themer, now I see. The S, K, I near the right side of the grid slope upwards. It’s really weird to have the S near that Y and E from other “ship-shape” words.
  • 84a. [*Multi-episode narrative], STORY ARC. None of its letters are circled. Maybe the letters in STORY, somewhere else in the grid and in circles, form an arc? Oh, sure, there it is, the S, T, O, R, Y near the bottom center of the grid, more or less making a connect-the-dots arc if you apply line smoothing. The S sitting on top of the square of TOWN is distracting.
  • 113a. [*Civic center], TOWN SQUARE. To the left, the letters T, O, W, N go clockwise in a 2×2 square. [Civic center] would also be a cryptic crossword clue for the single letter V that’s circled at the top, but I’m guessing that V has another role it’s playing here. This theme entry messed with me thoroughly because township is a thing, and square is a shape, so that approaches SHIP-SHAPE from another angle. Alas, skiship and storyship, etc., aren’t things. Weird to have a red herring that’s so promising but a complete dead end.
  • 35d. [*Airport logjam], SECURITY LINE. The letters in SECURITY are spread out unevenly in one row.
  • 36d. [*Rick, Ilsa and Victor had one in “Casablanca”], LOVE TRIANGLE. Connect L, O, V, E into a right triangle, aka a sail.

Do we accept “that’s a sailboat” as a visual rendering of a SHIP SHAPE? I feel like sailboat ≠ ship.

The themers are short and few, with just 59 theme squares in those entries (supplemented by the circled letters, which are pretty much anchored to their grid locations to allow the boat picture to fit. TOWN SQUARE appears opposite MECHANICAL, but that’s just a random entry and not a symmetrical theme partner.

Overall, I did not enjoy the theme at all. Spending 20 minutes annotating a screenshot with lines is not remotely fun for your blogger! There wasn’t a ton of juicy fill to make up for this, either (and there’s debris like INRI OMRI NSEW UTA SMIT), so I’m pretty much going thumbs-down on this connect-the-dots puzzle. A smattering of random things (STAYS, PORT, WWI, ERODED, PATH, etc.) have boat- or sea-related clues, but given that you don’t necessarily see what the theme is till after you’ve finished the puzzle, they don’t add much value.

Five more things:

  • 15d. [Attempts], ASSAYS. Yuck. Merriam-Webster lists assay as an archaic synonym for “attempt,” and has no such caveat for essay. I definitely filled in that E but the EAS crossing was nonsense.
  • 13d. [Writer Serwer of The Atlantic], ADAM. Serwer’s most recent piece was about John Lewis being a founding father of our nation as it is now. The Atlantic’s been publishing so much great journalism lately. Science writer Ed Yong explains the wild and woolly immunology of COVID-19 (my nephrologist once expressed awe at my transplant nephrologist’s grasp of immunology, which I guess he never made much sense of). And Amanda Mull describes the (callously misguided) pandemic management Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, has foisted on his constituents.
  • 52d. [Endless YouTube viewing, e.g.], TIME SINK. I wager that at least half of us went with TIME SUCK first.
  • 61d. [New York city with a marina], RYE. Just because “marina” tangentially ties to the nautical theme? Feh. I don’t care if the NYT is a popular newspaper in Rye—it’s still a town of 16,000 people and the vast majority of solvers likely neither know nor care that it has a marina.
  • 109a. [Where to get a mullet trimmed], FISH MARKET. Mullet, the fish, and not the hairstyle. Surprised the clue didn’t allude to harbors or seacoasts or something.

2.25 stars from me. Just a weird solving experience overall. And I’ve seldom valued the appearance of nauticalese in crosswords (it feels exclusionary to me), so this one’s not for me.

Pam Amick Klawitter’s LA Times crossword, “Opening Acts” – Jenni’s write-up

This was fun! The theme answers are mash-ups of rock bands and common phrases. The bands are first – thus the title.

Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2020, Pam Amick Klawitter, “Opening Acts,” solution grid

  • 23a [Appreciative freeloaders?] are GRATEFUL DEADBEATS.
  • 37a [World conference participants?] are TALKING HEADS OF STATE.
  • 65a [“There’s snowplace like home” or “I only have ice for you”?] is COLDPLAY ON WORDS.
  • 74a [Writing that’s both flowery and thoughtful?] is DEEP PURPLE PROSE.
  • 102a [Time anticipated by environmentalists?] is the GREEN DAY OF RECKONING.
  • 123a [Bad dream about Cerberus?] is a THREE DOG NIGHTMARE. This is my favorite.

All the theme entries are solid, and each answer was amusing. Figuring out the theme early on added to the fun for me. Nice!

A few other things:

  • I read 11d initially as Silk Road dessert rather than [Silk Road desert]. Duh. It’s GOBI, of course.
  • 37d [Show off a new outfit, say] is TWIRL, not MODEL. I do love a twirly skirt, still.
  • I recently read Emily Wilson’s translation of the ODYSSEY and loved it. Highly recommend.
  • Elements of the puzzle: ZINC, clued as its atomic number, and BORON, clued as its symbol.
  • 103d [Brit’s rats?] has nothing to do with rodents. It’s DASH IT.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that TERRY Crews is on “America’s Got Talent.” Never watched it, and to be honest, I had to look up who he is.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “What Is It?” – Jim Q’s writeup

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…. ULTRA MAN!

THEME: The word IT is substituted with another two-letter word (which can fill in the phrase IT’S ??) in common phrases to create wacky phrases.

Washington Post, August 9, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “What Is It?” solution grid


  • 85D [“The kick’s in the air …” (and a hint to two starred answers in this puzzle)] IT’S UP. That is to say, the word IT in two answers will become the word UP.
  • 126A [“I’m here” (and a hint to two starred answers in this puzzle)] IT’S ME. 
  • 13A [“No worries” (and a hint to two starred answers in this puzzle)] IT’S OK. 
  • 32A [“This means war!” (and a hint to two starred answers in this puzzle)] IT’S ON. 


  • 22A [*Loaf stuffed with cocoons stuffed with insects] PUPA BREAD. The turducken of of all disgusting breads. The hint to deciphering this answer is IT’S UP. Base phrase = PITA BREAD.
  • 24A [*Actor Danson in rare form?] UNCOMMON TEDFrom UNCOMMITTED. IT’S ON.
  • 38A [*Young dogs led by a maestro?] ORCHESTRA PUPS. ORCHESTRA PITS. A bit strange as a plural base phrase. IT’S UP. 
  • 57A [*Defame athletes?] SMEAR PLAYERS. SITAR PLAYERS. IT’S ME.
  • 79A [*Chinese cooking competition?] BATTLE OF WOKS. BATTLE OF WITS. IT”S OK. My favorite of the bunch by a long shot.
  • 101A [*Fully understand one’s choppers?] GROK YOUR TEETH. GRIT YOUR TEETH. IT’S OK. 
  • 116A [*Jolly Roger pirate, when he’s building a home made of twigs?] NESTING SMEE. NESTING SITE. IT’S ME. 
  • 120A [*Shindig for small horses?] PONY PARTY. PITY PARTY. IT’S ON. My other favorite.

For some reason I started this puzzle in the SE, and found PONY PARTY. I clearly saw what was going on and figured the whole puzzle would be based around IT’S ON. To my surprise (and delight) it wasn’t just ON! OK, UP and ME joined too!

I love this concept, but I must say I feel like I may have enjoyed it more if it stuck to four solid themers rather than eight. That might feel like too few, but some of the fill felt like more of a grind than usual and, while some of the themers landed very solidly (PONY PARTY, PUPA BREAD, BATTLE OF WOKS) others did not (UNCOMMON TED from the single-word UNCOMMITTED, SMEAR PLAYERS from SITAR PLAYERS, which doesn’t strike me as an in-language phrase, NESTING SMEE from NESTING SITE).

I pick The Battle of Woks!

Fill that was difficult for me included SEARLE, DEX, TISHA, LEIGH, ULTRA MAN, HARTE, and EYRIE. Looking back, perhaps it was just clued more difficult than usual. Fill doesn’t seem overly stilted in retrospect.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this, but I felt myself getting weaker rather than stronger after I figured out what was going on. At over 18 minutes, my time reflects that. I’m usually in the 11-13 minute range with the WaPo.

Plenty to like too:

Fun trivia: [Like Margo Dydek, among all WNBA pros so far] TALLEST. 

Long quote: [“The ___ of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together”: Carl Sagan] BEAUTY. 

Cute clue: [Cell count?] APPS. 

Misdirection (for me anyway): [Task guides] TO DO LISTS. (I was thinking, like, guides as in the SHERPA).

Also, one more post-solve note I received was this from Evan:

The letter strings IT, ME, ON, OK, and UP aren’t anywhere in the grid except in the theme answers and revealers.

I should’ve realized sooner. As always, the construction and effort is meticulous. A bit more exhausting for me than usual today!

Enjoy your Sunday!

Robert E.L. Morris’s Universal crossword — “Do The Shuffle” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Great title for this one. In fact, I entered DANCE for 1-Across since I mistakingly read the title as the first clue. How apt!

THEME: Types of dances are jumbled in common phrases.

Universal crossword solution · “Do the Shuffle” · Robert E.L. Morris · Sun., 8.09.20


  • 17A [Western supply chain? (unscramble each set of circled letters)] WAGON TRAIN. Tango. 
  • 24A [Prefabricated dwelling] MODULAR HOME. Hora. 
  • 40A [United Nations gathering] GENERAL ASSEMBLY. Salsa. 
  • 50A [Fashion designer who created Polo] RALPH LAUREN. Hula. 
  • 64A [Club DJ’s track, or what can be found in 17-, 24-, 40- and 50-Across?] DANCE REMIX. 

I’ll start with my usual complaint about circled letters in the Universal puzzle (which I’ll copy/paste from a recent post). I know it may get tiresome, but I think it’s important to consistently point out that Universal is offering two different solve experiences, one of which is far less visual and is much more likely to be solved by a novice solver. However, there is a silver lining!

A standing complaint I’ve had with Universal puzzles is that when it comes to circled letters, they are not able to provide them in their widely published format. Only here, in .puz format made for this site. I have always been befuddled as to why they were willing to provide two different experiences, but while today is no different in that respect, I have great news! I have been assured that Andrews McMeel is aware of the problem, has recognized it as a problem, and is working towards a fix. Hope that fix comes soon, because Universal runs a lot of themes that are better presented with circles.

It’s not here yet, so today solvers of the widely published format are asked to count and circle their own letters before unscrambling them.

As far as the puzzle itself, it was fun to get to the revealer and figure out what I was trying to unscramble! The only word I was able to unscramble prior to uncovering the revealer was HAUL (which I later determined was actually HULA!).

All common in-language phrases, all common dances, and the mixed word bridges words in the phrase. That’s all you can ask for in this theme type!

Well, that and a strong revealer, which in this case is DANCE REMIX… I suppose the hidden dances were mixed, and mixed again? How are we to know!

Anyway 3.5 stars with circles and 1.2 stars without.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Interview with Captain Obvious”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Common questions, whether rhetorical or from famous works, are clued via their literal answers. It feels like a Jeopardy/crossword mashup.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Interview with Captain Obvious” · Paul Coulter · 8.9.20

  • 23a. [Question: ___ / Answer: The dictionary’s T section, near “thistle”]. WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM? The answer is a little tortured and I have trouble imagining “this” “coming from” the dictionary.
  • 36a. [Q: ___ / A: Anything that comes to mind] WHAT DO YOU THINK? That works better.
  • 53a. [Q: ___ / A: Below thy balcony] WHEREFORE ART THOU ROMEO? Good.
  • 64a. [Q: ___ / A: The opening act] WHO’S ON FIRST? Yup.
  • 75a. [Q: ___ / A: With water, sunshine and fertilizer] HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW? Depends on the type of garden, but sure.
  • 94a. [Q: ___ / A: Things I hate] WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE? There you go.
  • 110a. [Q: ___ / A: I turn off the lights and lie in my bed] HOW CAN YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT? This one’s worth a chuckle, although I feel like “How do you sleep at night?” is more common.

Not bad. What I like most about this themeset is the sheer number of common questions that are 21-letter grid spanners. You don’t often see grid spanners in 21x grids, and to have four of them here and all of them fun ones, well, that’s worthy of a couple stars right there.

The long fill is solid: AM/FM RADIO, CAREERISM, WHILE AWAY, DOMINICAN, ST MARKS, OWN GOAL, PURISTSEPHESUS, CASBAH, and ROWLF the Muppet dog. In the new-to-me category we find MORONI [Angel whom Mormons believe visited Joseph Smith] and WEIWEI [Artist and activist Ai] who has been critical not only of the communist party in China but of the West as well. I’m glad to learn about him.

A pleasantly fun and quick solve. Four stars from me.

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26 Responses to Sunday, August 9, 2020

  1. Stephen B. Manion says:

    I completed the puzzle and saw the diagram and came here to find out the significance of the circled letters beyond their positioning. I applaud Amy’s patience and perseverance.

    As to The Atlantic, don’t forget this brilliant article by James Fallows:

    I enjoyed the puzzle, but not the theme It looks like a CATBOAT, which is more boat than ship.

    • arthur118 says:

      I sense a bit of a “sniff” in the mention of a CATBOAT.

      Whether boat, ship, or craft, Winslow Homer’s famous painting, “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)”, depicting the catboat Gloucester under full sail, creates a demand for lasting respect of the classy CATBOAT.

      • Stephen B. Manion says:


        My motivation was not condescension. I was acting on finding where sailing boat ends and sailing ship begins. The diagram depicts a forward mast, which is a CATBOAT. Wikipedia lists sailboats as including KETCH, CUTTER, CATBOAT, DINGHY, SCHOONER, SLOOP and YAWL. Of those, I would have guessed that all were boats except SCHOONER.

  2. David Steere says:

    WaPo: Some Sundays Evan offers us a little guessing game or treasure hunt to play. In almost anyone else’s hands, moving around the puzzle grid to make substitutions would be a slog. Not here. Not at all. Charming as hell and another winner. My favorite clue today may be 101 Down. Really great inclusiveness, too, throughout.

    • Norm says:

      Can’t say I agree. I found it a total slog and just solved it as a themeless. Not one of jis better puzzles IMO.

  3. Frank says:

    NYTimes was a perfectly good themeless if you just ignore the dumb boat thing.

  4. Howard B says:

    I actually think this is quite clever (execution or not), because it’s a type of connect-the-dots theme variant I don’t recall seeing before.
    I did solve this as an easy themeless (except for the lower-right, for my own knowledge gap on fragrances), so that wasn’t an issue.

    My only question here is, what part of the theme picture is the square to the left?

  5. Gary R says:

    Re: NYT – I rarely enjoy a “theme” where you solve a crossword puzzle and then you’re asked to solve some other type of puzzle for the “aha!” moment. When I got to the revealer, the only letters I had in circles were the “V” at the top and the “O” in the revealer. With all the other circles clustered somewhat randomly in the bottom third of the puzzle, I decided to just march on, without worrying about the theme. When I finished, I took another look at the revealer, came up empty and decided to forget about it. After coming here to understand the theme, I think I made the right decision.

  6. Me says:

    WaPo: Can someone explain the Cell count = APPS? I’m guessing “Cell” is your cell phone, and the apps are on the cell phone, but is this referring to counting the number of apps? I don’t have any idea how many apps are on my phone. Or does the count refer to something else? Help!

    NYT: This must have been a bear to construct, and I applaud Ruth Bloomfield Margolin for managing to make it all work.

    • Jim Quinlan says:

      The “count” being the presence of multiple of something… so “Cell count” refers to the presence of multiple apps. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but that’s how I understood it.

    • R says:

      I read “count” to mean “total number,” so the clue reads as something like “total number of something on a cell phone”. It’s unusual to think of APPS in those terms, but if you have a phone with limited storage, you might have to pay attention to the number of them.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    Today’s NYT got very tedious for me, I suspect it is a byproduct of making the boat figure work. Way beyond a long run/short hop trope.

    By contrast I actually enjoyed doing yesterday’s 21×12 WSJ while watching the golf from SF, held literally across the street from my first apartment in the City. I mention that now because I’m old enough to know that when I miss SF, what I really miss is being 29 when I moved in that place. Sorry for the #OKBoomer moment

  8. Amanda says:

    Any idea on how to apply the boat picture to the online version of the NYT puzzle? Mine is totally filled in but it gives the error message “at least one square’s amiss.” I really don’t think any of my answers are wrong and am wondering if it’s because the picture’s not on it. Or am I going awry here?

    • AJS says:

      It autodrew the boat lines for me when I filled in the last square, so I’m afraid at least one square is probably amiss.

  9. Bryan says:

    NYT: I thought it was a more enjoyable solve than others, I guess. Actually pretty easy for a Sunday, I thought. I solve on the NYT crossword app, and I’m so happy the app automatically connected the dots and showed me the sailboat (not a ship), because I wouldn’t have had the patience to figure out how to connect the dots myself. I actually enjoy the puzzles where the app does some nifty animation at the end, although alas, I didn’t get the “gray” to appear in the “white/black” boxes from this past Thursday’s puzzle like others apparently did.

  10. david says:

    UCS: In the .puz file, the clue for 53a., WHEREFORE ART THOU ROMEO?, has been changed to [Q: ___ / A: Because that’s my name] since “wherefore” doesn’t mean “where” but rather “why”.

  11. Marycat says:

    LAT: A whopping 61 PPP/capitalized answers and 28 abbreviations. This is getting out of hand.

  12. Mary P says:

    Wapo went smoothly. Had no idea what grok was. Looked it up today. And my totally wrong solution to the puzzle was “Pokemon without u.” Better luck next time.

  13. Christopher Morse says:

    NYT – definitely enjoyed the theme, personally. Once I got SHIP SHAPE and two of the italicized clues, the overall structure was pretty clear and helped me fill in the others in that each answer had something in common (a shape word at the end) and told me what would be in the circles ahead of time. Add in the unique (to me) connect-the-dots and I thought it was a great theme! Sorry to hear others didn’t enjoy it as much.

  14. Carl Hupert says:

    I think Christopher Morse’s explains the theme best. Each answer is immediately followed by the shape that is needed. The letters SKI make a slope somewhere. Aha, there it is. The ski itself is sloping. Story is followed by arc. Where is the arc? Oh, where the letters STORY are spaced out. Love forms the triangle, and town tells us there has to be four letters spelling square. There is a minor glitch that security needs the circled I to spell out line.
    Hup hup

  15. BOB says:

    Have to ask, did anyone else have TIMESUCK for 52D? When Googled TIMESUCK turns up more than TIMESINK

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Have to ask, did you read my write-up? “52d. [Endless YouTube viewing, e.g.], TIME SINK. I wager that at least half of us went with TIME SUCK first.”

      • BOB says:

        Apologies. TBH Amy I didn’t read it all the way through. I already wasn’t a big fan of this puzzle. Didn’t need to read more reasons not to like it.

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