Sunday, August 16, 2020

LAT 8:29 (Jenni) 


NYT 7:28 (Jenni) 


WaPo 17:03 (Jim Q) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:09 (Jim P) 


Francis Heaney’s New York Times crossword, “ALTERNATIVE CINEMA”—Jenni’s write-up

I don’t know why the title is all upper-case. The theme answers are all alternative titles for movies. There’s nothing about it that suggests a need for yelling.

The New York Times, August 16, 2020, #0816, Francis Heaney, “ALTERNATIVE CINEMA,” solution grid

  • 23a [Alternative title for “The Dirty Dozen”?] is TWELVE ANGRY MEN.
  • 33a [Alternative title for “Cleopatra”?] is THE AFRICAN QUEEN.
  • 51a [Alternative title for “Frankenstein”?] is DOCTOR STRANGE.
  • 68a [With 70-Across, alternative title for “To Kill a Mockingbird”?] is BYE BYE BIRDIE.
  • 92a [Alternative title for “Titanic”?] is WATERSHIP DOWN. This was my favorite.
  • 106a [Alternative title for “Gone Girl”?] is THE LADY VANISHES.
  • 121a [Alternative title for “The Name of the Rose”?] is AMERICAN BEAUTY.

This is a solid, accessible Sunday theme; the answers are inferrable without being predictable. I prefer wordplay, and that’s a matter of taste rather than quality.

A few other things:

  • I dropped in CHINESE for 1a, [Red Guard members], instead of MAOISTS. Oops.
  • 17d [They don’t go much higher than the tongue] is a cute clue for ANKLE SOCKS.
  • 35d [Lengths for rulers] isn’t inches or feet. It’s kings and queens. The answer is REIGNS.
  • 76d [Stone to cast?] is SHARON.
  • I don’t know if a COLD BATH is a [Soothing summer soak]. Cool bath, maybe. Cold sounds too – well, cold.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Charles FINNEY is known as “The Father of Modern Revivalism.” I know of Finney; I was an English major with a concentration in American Studies and I remember him and the Second Great Awakening. Didn’t know the epithet. Also did not know that ED HELMS appeared in “The Hangover.” That’s on the list of movies I have no interest in.

MaryEllen Uthlaut’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Attracting the Wrong Type” — Jenni’s write-up

This is a cute idea for a theme and most of the answers were amusing. And the fill….we’ll get to that.

Each theme answer is someone who took a job description too literally.

Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2020, MaryEllen Uthlaut, “Attracting the Wrong Type,” solution grid

  • 23a. The ad said “seasonal work” … and we got an __!” EXECUTIVE CHEF. This is strained (heh). Yes, chefs use seasonings, but “seasonal” doesn’t refer to cooking.
  • 35a [… “flexible hours” … and we got a __!] CONTORTIONIST. This works better.
  • 56a [… “fast-paced environment” … and we got a __!] RACECAR DRIVER.
  • 70a [… “good driving record” … and we got a __!] PRO GOLFER.
  • 83a [… “high-energy position” … and we got a __!] TRAPEZE ARTIST
  • 107a [… “service-minded attitude” … and we got a __!] a WORSHIP LEADER. This appears to be a thing in Christian culture. It’s not a thing in my flavor of Judaism – we say “service leader.”
  • 121a [… “strong verbal skills” and we got a __!] DRILL SERGEANT. I liked this one except that I apparently can’t spell SERGEANT. I goofed in the grid and again here, differently.

I didn’t like WORSHIP LEADER when I was solving. A bit of Googling shows that this is due to my own narrow-mindedness, so all the themers are solid except for 23a, as I noted above. If that had been further down and not the first one I encountered, I would have liked the theme better, which isn’t fair. I just rewrote this whole paragraph to take out my carping. It’s a cute theme and almost entirely well-executed. Nice!

So I said we’d get back to the fill. They managed to come up with an African antelope I’ve never heard of before, and I’ve been doing crosswords for 50 years. ORIBI? Really? ANODAL is horrible on its own. It’s even worse because it could be ANODIC and who would care about the difference? And it’s right next to plural MERINOS. Ugh.

Also: I think this is the second week in a row that I have objected to a clue referencing Mike TYSON. This one is [“Iron Mike” in the ring]. How about [Convicted rapist in jail] if it has to be him? Or better yet, let’s use CICELY, as Amy suggested the last time I raised this issue. CICELY Tyson is still active. Mike the Rapist hasn’t appeared in a boxing ring since 2005. Why should he continue to show up in our puzzles when there is an alternative that would also boost the representation of women in color in crosswords?

I did like 34d [“Little help here, bud?”] for BE A PAL, and it was lovely to see MERL Reagle make an appearance. Crossworld still feels his loss. I think we always will.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Spongebob Squarepants has a driving teacher named MRS. Puff.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 14” – Jim Q’s writeup

Themeless time!

Washington Post, August 16, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Themeless No. 14” solution grid

THEME: None.


  • 7D [Kraft buyer’s fare, maybe] GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH. I assume this means the Kraft buyer is purchasing those cheese singles, which… I always thought yuck. But then I got my wisdom teeth pulled a couple days ago and ate a whole package of those because I was at my sister’s and they were the only thing I could eat in her fridge. Not bad.
  • 59A [Shake stuff, at times] CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM. Crossing GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH. Not sure if they mix well.
  • 102A [Showing a video on the website YouNow, say] LIVE STREAMING. 
  • 21A [They explain how superheroes got their superpowers] ORIGIN STORIES. My first entry in the grid.
  • 19A [Price offered for one’s Soul, say?] TRADE-IN VALUE. My second entry in the grid!
  • 7A [Atlanta institution founded in the 1880s] GEORGIA TECH. My third entry in the grid!
  • 107A [Like stale jokes] DONE TO DEATH. I was in a play called Done to Death. It was terrible.

I think a 21x Themeless is something you really have to be in the mood for. The last couple times I solved one, I wasn’t. Luckily for me, this time I very much was, even after I completely faltered in the NW, entering absolutely nothing at first go-around.

I found a much more solid footing in the NE, entering ORIGIN STORIES, TRADE-IN VALUE, and GEORGIA TECH with no crosses. Doesn’t that feel good when that happens? Even if the clues are a touch easy? I made my way very steadily through the puzzle in a clockwise fashion before getting back up to the NW, where most of my time was spent.

Tough stuff I met up there was:

4D [Like an arachnid’s web] SPIDERY. Such a laughably weird clue/answer pair.

1D [“And away we go-o-o-o!”] WHEE. Wait… I only say WHEE! when the ride is underway!

22A [“Sure!”] YES I DO. One of those where it could be a bunch of different answers.

20A [___ doctrine (belief that the pope has preeminent authority and is the successor of the saint associated with the pearly gates)] PETRINE. Needed every cross, even with the extra help in the clue!

Liberty Pole

6D [Solution used for dipping pretzels before baking them] LYE. I was hesitant to enter LYE because I’ve never seen it clued with respect to food preparation!

29A [Symbol of resistance in Colonial America] LIBERTY POLE. New for me.


I admit I entered MAN CAVE before SHE SHED [Personal space with a gendered name]. Same number of letters!

Found this fun all around with a great blend of trivia, tough stuff, clever clues, and inferable answers. Nothing crossed unfairly. Making a 21x themeless as fun as this is no easy task.

Enjoy your Sunday!



Kevin Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels’s Universal crossword — “Vane Effort” – Jim Q’s Write-up

You’re so vane!

Universal crossword solution · “Vane Effort” · Andrea Carla Michaels · Kevin Christian · Sun., 8.16.20

THEME: Homophones that rhyme with VANE to create wacky phrases.


  • 18A [Tight grip on a mare’s hair?] MANE SQUEEZE. Ouch!
  • 27A [“A Boeing 747 contains about 6 million parts,” e.g.?] PLANE FACT. As seen on Snapple caps.
  • 45A [Part of a window in baby Archie’s nursery?] ROYAL PANE. 
  • 58A [Growing sugar?] RAISING CANE. 

I never quite mastered the VANE/VAIN difference. I always find myself double-checking.

Fun, over-the-plate common theme type here, made consistent in that they all have the –AIN rhyming sound.

Favorite mistake was 65A [Take the plunge?]. I entered GET WED… which makes sense, right? Of course, it’s not a phrase I’m familiar with, but I’ve seen weirder in crosswords. GET WET, the correct answer, is leaps and bounds better.

Not sure why AJAR needed a ? in its clue [Cracked open?]. Seems like a very interchangeable definition to me.

Liked HEREABOUTS, SMUG LOOK, and BITE SIZEMAKES A PILE felt weird. Maybe I just haven’t heard it said.

Well done! 4 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Connecting Flights”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Each well-known phrase hides a three-letter AIRPORT CODE (115a, [Each starred answer hides one]).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Connecting Flights” · Zhouqin Burnikel · 8.16.20

  • 23a. [*Certain good luck charm] RABBIT’S FOOT. San Francisco.
  • 25a. [*Pianist who plays with Yo-Yo Ma] EMANUEL AX. Los Angeles.
  • 37a. [*Newsroom fixture] ANCHOR DESK. O’Hare, Chicago.
  • 68a. [*Drink often taken with salt] TEQUILA SHOT. Las Vegas (McCarran Int’l. Airport.)
  • 97a. [*Reason for roadside service] DEAD ENGINE. Denver.
  • 113a. [*Michigan, e.g.] GREAT LAKE. Atlanta.
  • 36d. [*Firefighters’ nuisances] FALSE ALARMS. Sea-Tac.
  • 41d. [*Profit from a stock sale] CAPITAL GAINS. La Guardia, New York.

I like the conceit. These airports might be locations where you make connections and each one is “connecting” two words together. Works well enough for me.

How many of these airports have you been through? I think I went with JFK the one time I’ve been through New York, and I’m not sure I’ve ever flown to Vegas, seeing as it’s within driving distance of L.A. where I used to live. But I’ve been through the rest of them.

What have we got in the fill? SUBPOENA is not a common crossword answer, so that’s interesting to see. MUSTACHE is great, and I liked CANOPIES and Frank MCCOURT. “WASN’T ME” is hilarious when you think of how it’s most often used. Ooh, and can’t pass up mathematician FERMAT.

I could do without IMING clued as [Chatting with online] as if this was something people still say (they don’t still say it, do they?).

Clues of note:

  • 22a. [Part for Constance Wu]. Not a character name, but a generic ROLE. I don’t know this actor’s name, but she was in Crazy Rich Asians and is on ABC’S Fresh Off the Boat, neither of which I’ve seen.
  • 76a. [Blood blank fluid]. PLASMA. “Blank” in that it’s a clear liquid, I guess? I assumed this was a typo at first, but now I’m not so sure.
  • 102a. [Atmosphere in a restaurant?]. AURA. The letters AURA appear in “restaurant.”
  • 24d. [Meghan Markle’s “Bye!”]. TATA. I’m skeptical that a young American person is going to adopt “TATA” as a way of saying farewell.
  • 48d. [Drink to make with your buds?]. ROSE TEA. Cute clue.

Solid grid as usual from ZB. Nothing earth-shattering, but it works well.

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17 Responses to Sunday, August 16, 2020

  1. Dr Fancypants says:

    NYT: the SANRIO/LAILA crossing is rough. For some reason I was so sure SANRIO was spelled with a Y, and LAYLA seemed fine there.

  2. Jenni Levy says:

    Oh, Jim, no no no. CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM would be a lovely dessert to have after a GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH.

  3. RSP64 says:

    NYT – Was anyone else bothered by both the clue and answer for 68/70 across containing BIRD (mockingBIRD and BIRDie)? I thought I had something wrong there for a while.

    • Gary R says:

      Dupes don’t generally bother me (I rarely notice them until someone points them out here). Perhaps this one was considered acceptable because in the movie title, Birdie is the last name of a character in the movie.

  4. Me says:

    LAT: Is there a twist to DRILLSERGEANT, other than he yells a lot and is therefore verbal? It’s not really a double meaning, while the other theme answers use the key words like “driving” in two different senses. I feel like I’m missing something.

    WaPo: I usually love Evan Birnholz’s work, but I just wasn’t on his wavelength today. Too many proper names that seemed obscure, and stuff like PETRINE and LIBERTYPOLE didn’t help. I had LIBERTYbell and LIBERTYtreE in there first. I think a themeless shouldn’t lean so much towards obscurity.

    • GG says:

      Ditto. And “snowier? [96-A]

    • David Steere says:

      WaPo: I loved this themeless from Evan. There were 18 or 19 clues with names and such in them which I wasn’t familiar with. I tend to circle such a clue when I don’t know the reference in it. Yet…I filled in the entire puzzle with no errors which is a tribute to Evan’s fair crosses. A nice, slightly tough, puzzle.

  5. Mike says:

    Did anyone else do Lollapuzzola yesterday? It was my first crossword tournament, and I really enjoyed it! It was nice to be able to do it from home, and also to do it online. Typically, I throw in a lot of maybe answers and end up having to erase a lot of them later. That’s easy online, but much messier and time-consuming with a pencil. Although the camaderie from in-person tourneys wasn’t there, of course.

    I don’t want to post spoilers because I know the at-home portion is still happening, but I was wondering what other people thought of the event.

    • Mike says:

      I was also wondering if the puzzles were harder than usual. By my quick count, only about 140 entrants had 5 clean puzzles out of 1100-1200 who did all 5, and I think only about half of the Top 100 did. Is that typical?

      Does the scoring system penalize enough for wrong answers? I know the system is different for different tourneys.

    • Troy says:

      I also thought it was great. I hope they continue the virtual version even after covid-19 for those of us on the West Coast who can’t just fly to New York. It was so professionally run and slick. The puzzles were a nice mix, though that 4th one killed me. I rarely leave squares blank but had to for that one.

    • Samuel says:

      It was great! Very well done. I’d never heard of it before, and certainly couldn’t have attended in person.

  6. Billy Boy says:

    Absolutely standard NYT, completely unremarkable. Pretty much didn’t have to work for any theme answers. I may have to do Evan’s today, if I have time since I see that it is themeless – rather novel for 21×21. I have a feeling my votes will not reflect the majority, only *** for NYT

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