Sunday, August 23, 2020

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 7:50 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:42 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 13:09 (Jim P) 


Barbara Lin’s New York Times crossword, “Musical Interlude”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 8 23 20, “Musical Interludes”

Today’s puzzle creator has a lovely and rich missive in the Constructor Notes section of Wordplay. Do check that out if you haven’t already read it. Barbara Lin is a newish constructor—this is her first Sunday-sized puzzle, but she’s had at least eight prior puzzles, all in the past year—but this is a polished outing. It’s nice to see a healthy smattering of women’s names in the fill and clues, too.

The theme entries add DO, RE, MI, etc., to familiar phrases, and the resulting goofy phrases are clued accordingly:

  • 23a. [Iditarod, for one?], AMAZING DOG RACE. That’s DO inserted into “Amazing Grace” (and the existence of The Amazing Race sort of threw me a bit).
  • 31a. [One driving kids around in a Subaru?], FORESTER PARENT. Ha! I am actually a Forester parent, though I drive a Toyota. Students at Lake Forest College are called Foresters. (I’m grateful the college chose an all-remote fall semester.)
  • 47a. [Letting out all the stops to drown out the other instruments?], ORGAN DOMINATION. Three cheers for building on organ donation for a theme answer! Hey, keep me in mind in a year or two or three if you might be interested in donating a kidney. I don’t need one yet, but the current kidney won’t last forever.
  • 62a. [Cocaine and guns, in a Pacino movie?], SCARFACE RESOURCES. Not sure if I like scarce resources as a base phrase.
  • 81a. [Troops who are worried about sun protection?], PARASOL MILITARY. Paints a great visual!
  • 93a. [Give mom’s mom the stink eye?], GLARE AT GRANDMA. Another funny one! Never realized that GREAT could add a couple letters to make GLARE AT.
  • 109a. [“Twelve Days of Christmas” musician who invites sympathy?], THE PITIED PIPER.

Getting a smile out of me (and a laugh out of my husband) for two of the seven themers is actually a decent performance, given how many themes are devoid of humor or surprise. I liked it. The back story of what motivated Barbara to create this theme is touching, too.

Some clues I liked:

  • 10a. [One to whom you tell *everything*], BFF. When you’re using a means of written communication that doesn’t accommodate bold or italics, you can add emphasis with asterisks. Didn’t check to see if the print/web versions actually styled that text.
  • 29a. [Bronze that’s not winning any awards?], FAKE TAN. Yeah, applying makeup for an artificial tan impresses no one.
  • 71a. [Whine connoisseurs?], CRABS. Raise your hand if you’ve whined and CRABbed more in the past six months than in the entire previous year.
  • 51d. [Winters or Somers], ACTRESS. Shelley and Suzanne. Great clue!

Oops, our dinner is about to be delivered earlier than expected. Fave fill: MAHALIA and the other women, GNOCCHI, I GUESS NOT, but not KALE SALAD because kale, meh.

Four stars from me.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Early Risers” – Jim Q’s writeup

Another mindbending, multi-layered, 21x offering from Evan this week (at second glance I think it’s 20×21!).

THEME: Starred clues are “early risers” in that the first letters in the answer need to be read vertically upward.

Washington Post, August 23, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Early Risers” solution grid

THEME ANSWERS (from bottom to top):

  • 114A [*Spurs] GOADS. Horizontally, it reads GADS (perfectly acceptable as a crossword entry), but moving upwards first, the solver can find the missing O
  • 106A [*More bizarre] ODDER. 
  • 91A [*Confusing situations] MORASSES. 
  • 73A [*Inning before extra innings] NINTH. 
  • 56A [*___ the system (exploited the rules)] GAMED. 
  • 35A [*Removing the wrong letters, say] ERASING. 
  • 26A [*Empathetic comment] I CARE. 
  • 66A [What an early riser may watch … and, reading bottom to top, what’s spelled out by this puzzle’s “early risers”] GOOD MORNING AMERICA


  • 21A [Time when an early riser is awake] BREAK OF DAY. 
  • 116A [Time when an early riser is awake] FIRST LIGHT. 

Unfortunately, when I last updated my Mac, the only photoshop program I kinda-sorta know how to use didn’t update with it, so I can’t color code the solution grid for a cleaner visual. Any help with that? Finding and learning a new program is on my list of things to do!

This is really, really clever. I especially like how the actual puzzle seems to be saying “GOOD MORNING!” to its many solvers who are likely to solve in the AM. The fact that each of the altered horizontal answers are still acceptable crossword fill is A) entirely expected because Evan wouldn’t do it any other way and B) phenomenal!

While regular solvers are likely to have seen this sort of idea of letters veering from their horizontal course in puzzles before, this entire grid felt fresh.

Tougher stuff in the gird for me largely included names (as usual). Didn’t know AIMEE, PEGG (though there’s a nice little helper to determine that one at 95A), DOUGELIALYSSAISAACNINA, and HILO. I will say that all were fairly crossed and I much prefer the fresher clues for them over the ones I’ve seen time and time again. Still, I don’t think it will stick unless I see them over and over. I did know Kelli O’HARA! I’ve seen her in everything she’s been on on Broadway, including the dreadful Dracula, the Musical. 

Favorite clues were 11D [Non-public relations?] LOVE LIFE and 66D [Leave No Doubt but still perform, say] GO SOLO.  

My favorite mistakes were ENO for ONO [“Children Power” musician] (and you’d be surprised how willing I was to accept GHESTS for 69D [Some characters in Jesmyn Ward’s book “Sing, Unburied, Sing”]). And FIRST THING instead of FIRST LIGHT. I kind of like FIRST THING better because it seems to hint at what should be done in the puzzle.

I don’t know how Evan keeps meeting the bar he sets, but he did it again. Bravo!

I suspect something more standard will be greeting solvers next week.

Gary Larson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Set Backs”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Well-known phrases re-imagined as sets of people.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Set Backs” · Gary Larson · 8.23.20

  • 21a. [Group of long-distance runners?] BLISTER PACK
  • 23a. [Group of space cadets?] VACANT LOT. My favorite one, I think.
  • 52a. [Group of photo editors?] CROP CIRCLE
  • 70a. [Group of amateur electricians?] SHORT ORDER
  • 102a. [Group of goat herders?] BILLY CLUB. Another good one.
  • 104a. [Group of baseball players?] DIAMOND RING
  • 1d. [Group of private detectives?] TAIL ASSEMBLY
  • 59d. [Group of mobile phone users?] CELL DIVISION

Some of these work better than others, but on the whole, it’s a solid and mostly enjoyable theme.

The grid is filled well—more utilitarian than sparkly, but filling a 21x smoothly is no easy task. My favorite entries are actor Frank LANGELLA and PAPRIKA, but the rest of the long fill is clean as well (with the possible exception of VASTEST).

Clues of note:

  • 5a. [Fitting name for a middle American?]. ERIC appears in the middle of the word “American.”
  • 65d. [Doctor’s aid]. PAGER. I’m not so sure this is still a thing. Most of the doctors I know (including my wife) don’t have a PAGER. However, a quick Google search says I’m wrong and that 80% of hospitals still use them.

The theme works, has a touch of humor, and the grid is well-constructed. 3.6 stars.

Kevin Christian’s Universal crossword — “Second Shift” – Jim Q’s Write-up

THEME: Phrases that being with M?LT where the second letter cycles through the vowels.

Universal crossword solution · “Second Shift” · Kevin Christian · Sun., 8.23.20


  • 16A [Movie candy option] MALTED MILK BALLS. AKA Whoppers.
  • 24A [Heterogeneous group, metaphorically] MELTING POT. 
  • 38A [Life’s original source] MILTON BRADLEY. 
  • 49A [Volcanic output] MOLTEN LAVA. 
  • 59A [Possible movie date destination] MULTIPLEX CINEMA. 

A strong vowel-shifting theme with lots of long answers! New for me was JERI [Ryan of “Boston Public”], which wouldn’t have been too big a deal but I had BAR for JAR 44A [Tip location] (either works!), and I misspelled MOLTEN as MOLTON. So BORI to me looked just as good as JERI! Figured it out eventually.

Not so sure people say MALTED MILK BALLS, though that’s certainly what Whoppers are, and I’ve never asked a date to the MULTIPLEX CINEMA, though that’s certainly what it is!

Overall, enjoyable! Thanks!

3.5 stars.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Tutti Frutti” — Jenni’s write-up

Man, it’s hot. I’d go inside except that my husband is in there, and he just got back from taking our kid to CA for her junior year of college, so he’s quarantining and I can’t go in until he comes out. (Yes, school is all remote; yes, she has an off-campus apartment; yes, we carefully considered options and risks; yes, I’m terrified)

Ed and Rich give us fruity puns! I enjoyed this theme.

Los Angeles Times, 8/23/2020, Ed Sessa, “Tutti Frutti,” solution grid

  • 22a [Prime growing month for a citrus fruit?] is KUMQUAT MAY (come what may). This took me a long time because a) I forgot that KUMQUATs are citrus and b) I’ve never heard of Alan ARMER, who spells his name oddly. This corner also includes ADRIP. It’s a funny theme answer that required some icky fill.
  • 30a [Song sung by a French fruit lover?] is MY CHERRY AMOUR (My Cherie Amour).
  • 47a [“No juice in my mojito, please”?] is HOLD THE LIME (hold the line). That would make it rum, sugar, and soda with a bit of mint. Hmm.
  • 62a [Vintner’s prospects?] are GRAPE EXPECTATIONS (Great Expectations).
  • 79a [One removing fuzz from fuzzy fruit?] is a PEACHCOMBER (beachcomber). This one made me laugh.
  • 91a [Fruit farm’s cash flow?] is CURRANT INCOME (current income).
  • 107a [Write-up on a fruit?] is PEAR REVIEW (peer review).

All the theme answers are solid and amusing and the fill was mostly OK with the exception of the NW corner. As I’m sure I’ve said before, when something is not quite right with the NW corner it bothers me more than when it shows up elsewhere. That’s not fair, I know.

OK, he’s come out so I can go in and shower. I’ll skip straight to What I didn’t Know Before I Did This Puzzle: see above re: ARMER, who apparently produced the TV show “The Fugitive,” which ran from 1963 to 1967. I was 7 in 1967 and not allowed to watch scary television. I also did not know that JODY Watley won the 1987 Grammy for Best New Artist.

ETA I forgot to flag an egregious dupe: 66a [Lack on some gowns] for STRAPS, and 51d [One may come with a train], GOWN. That’s just not right.

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39 Responses to Sunday, August 23, 2020

  1. Dr Fancypants says:

    NYT: this is far and away the best Sunday puzzle I’ve seen in a very long time. Normally I only do Sunday out of a weird sense of obligation (I can’t stand the idea of skipping a puzzle), but this one was a genuine treat—the themers legit entertained me, enough to overcome the icky fill that inevitably accumulates in a puzzle of this size.

  2. JML says:

    By my standards, the puzzle was great. Very clean and very exciting to solve.

    The one beef I have is with the NYT itself. Someone mentioned on this blog the other day (in regards to the ALLFORONE puzzle) how they’ve had puzzles rejected because newly created phrases after some sort of wacky substitution aren’t stand alone phrases themselves. The same thing applies here. Again, I actually really enjoyed this puzzle, and I enjoy most puzzles even if the wacky substitutions result in nonsense phrases. Just hoping for some consistency from the NYT, because I’ve also had puzzles rejected by this same metric.

    • Ethan says:

      There is a difference between something like GLARE AT GRANDMA, which, although not an idiom or common collocation, is a meaningful phrase with English words and English syntax, and something like FONEINGROCKZALL from the puzzle you mentioned, which is a random string of letters. The former is much more welcome.

  3. Martin says:

    I haven’t seen anyone else point out the Cruciverb is back, so yay!

  4. Rachel Fabi says:

    NYT: Really enjoyed this! But also wanted to flag the dupe on WIRE TAP / “What might come down to the wire?”, since other publications tend to get beat up for dupes :)

  5. Billy Boy says:

    Piling on, yeah, this was a nice 21×21 from NYT was fun to solve and no yucky fill.

  6. David L says:

    DNF for me on the NYT because of NUTR_/N_GIRI. I thought the missing letter was A.

  7. David Steere says:

    WaPo: “Good morning” to you, too, Evan. Thanks for another elegant/complex Sunday puzzle. “At first light” and “at break of day” (both beautiful!)–actually the sun has been up for hours here in Arizona ;-) — I’m grateful for the greeting at 66 Across which doesn’t feel just like a reference to the TV show.

  8. Norm says:

    Very easy NYT, since the title and the circles — all two circles, except for the one three — suggested the theme straightaway, and I went ahead and dutifully filled in the notes, but that did not make it any less entertaining. I especially enjoyed the imagery of the PARASOL MILITARY, and THE PITIED PIPER was a gem as well. And thank you for the link to the Constructor’s Notes. A sweet story.

  9. Tina says:

    Finally got it to work using data on my phone. Any device using WiFi won’t work. Problem with at and t router even though I reset it.

    • Martin says:

      It’s a problem with the new ip being propagated through the DNS system. Some DNS servers are better than other, and AT&T’s isn’t great. I replaced them in my router config with the google DNS servers: and

      If you’re comfortable with playing with your gateway’s config, I highly recommend it. It solved a lot of problems for me and made things faster as well.

      Short of this, waiting for the AT&T DNS servers to get the news is your only option.

  10. Tina says:

    Worked. Set up my phone as hotspot and was able to use cross lite to load in my Sunday la times puzzle. Hokey. I’ll give it a few days and then call tech support (ugh) and get it fixed. Thanks so much for your support! I learned a lot.

  11. Me says:

    WaPo: Evan, thank you, thank you, thank you for making sure all the answers make sense even without the theme wordplay! I’m at a loss why Will Shortz lets nonsense like FONEINGROCKZALL into his puzzles. You’ve proven to us many times through your excellent work that it may be hard to avoid the nonsense, but it’s do-able. The NYT puzzle is supposed to be the cream of the crop, and the NYT should insist on that standard as well.

    And to do that, AND have the upward clues spell out GOODMORNINGAMERICA, in order, without it feeling forced… that is an impressive feat of construction!

    I also appreciate that NINTH is a gimme, I assume on purpose, which was my way into the puzzle since the answer HAD to be NINTH, and I just had to figure out how to make it work in the grid. Without NINTH, I might still be trying to figure out what was going on!

  12. Tracy Bennett says:

    Beautiful Sunday puzzle!

  13. Ethan says:

    Whenever I CARE appears in a puzzle, I immediately think of this:

  14. Alan D. says:

    Total Natick in the SW of the LAT. PRIVET crossing TITER seems unfair. Never heard of them. It didn’t help that I couldn’t remember STAVE either.

  15. Me says:

    Jim Q, I am also a big Broadway/Kelli O’Hara fan, although I missed Dracula. (That may be a good thing!) For me, I thought she was at her best in Light in the Piazza. She was luminous in that role. I was very happy to see her in a crossword puzzle!

    • Jim Q says:

      Agreed! Dracula remains one of l my favorite flops. So bad it was good. Bat Out of Hell the Musical and Dance of the Vampires are in that group as well.

  16. norm says:

    Did not care for the WaPo. Sometimes you went up one letter; sometimes you went up two; sometimes you went up one and over one before coming back down. A bit of a mess, I thought. Added nothing to the solve for me. I just ignored the stuff that didn’t make sense and waited for the revealer — which was a shill for a TV talk show? No “aha moment” for me; just “that’s all there is?” I’m glad other people enjoyed it.

    • sandirhodes says:

      Look again. There is also a path up.

    • “A shill for a TV talk show” — what a vicious comment. Do you normally accuse the NYT or the WSJ or the Universal or whichever puzzle that features a TV show of shilling for that show?! I picked GOOD MORNING AMERICA because a) it’s related to the concept of “early risers” (morning) and b) the letters worked well for spelling a message upwards while still keeping the resulting Across and Down entries real.

      It’s a shame you didn’t like the puzzle, but don’t ever lie about my motivations for making them.

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