Sunday, September 6, 2020

LAT 8:26 (Jenni) 


NYT 7:22 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal 5:00 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:59 (Jim P) 


David Kwong’s New York Times crossword, “Could You Repeat That Number?”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 6 20, “Could You Repeat That Number?”

I appreciate the title of this puzzle. If you are giving your phone number orally, be sure to repeat it, clearly, especially if you are leaving a voicemail—I have been broken by not being able to figure out what 10 digits the person has spoken. That has naught to do with the theme, mind you. The clues for nine themers (four long and five six short ones, with their first letters circled by me to show where they are in my grid) are all missing a “double” or “triple” angle that’s needed for the answer to fit:

  • 11a. [Dutch requirements]. ROPES. As in Double Dutch jump roping.
  • 22a. [Result, maybe, in brief], RBI. The result of a double in baseball, that is.
  • 33a. [07 film], YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Double-oh seven, or 007.
  • 44a. [U preceder], VEE. V follows U, so the clue is actually [(double)-U preceder].
  • 55a. [Day competitor], LITTLE BROWN AND COMPANY. Doubleday is also a noted publisher.
  • 66a. [“Fantasy” Grammy winner], ONO. Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Double Fantasy album.
  • 77a. [Play combo of old], “TINKER TO EVERS TO CHANCE.” Double play in baseball.
  • 88a. [Dealers do this], LIE. Double-dealers, that is.
  • 99a. [Tree alternative], INTERCONTINENTAL. Doubletree hotels.
  • 111a. [A suggestion], RTE. AAA, aka Triple A, with driving directions.

Neat theme. Now, David noted at Wordplay, “Also, did you spot the twist? There’s one more tricky clue in this puzzle … remember, I’m a magician!” I did see that 111a was tripled rather than doubled. Is that the twist, and there’s another doubled one somewhere in the grid that I missed? Plumbing his Wordplay remarks again, I see that the clue numbers are pertinent. All the “doubles” are doubled numbers (11, 22, etc.) and the Triple A bit comes at 111a. What else have you got, folks? It’s past 7 pm and I haven’t had dinner yet, so I’ll quit looking for the twist and carry on. (I guess the twist is just that 111a “triple” when the other nine themers are all doubles?)

This puzzle zipped by! Nothing really knocked me for a loop, none of the answers were things I didn’t know. There was some dusty old fill and whatnot smattered here and there (VEE which turns out to be a themer, but that doesn’t negate the dupe when there’s also V SIGN, SERT, RINSO, ELL), which is probably to be expected with the grid constraints of plunking these entries at those exact clue numbers.

Eight more things:

  • 11d. [Play back?], REVIVAL. As in bringing a theatrical play back for another run.
  • 85a. [State capital on the Colorado River], AUSTIN. This was not something I knew till this afternoon’s news—that Lake Travis where a number of “Trump boat parade” boats sank is a reservoir on the Colorado River, near Austin. (The current news is that no lives were lost; hope that remains the case.) News you can use for crossword knowledge!
  • 93a. [“___ to My Socks,” Pablo Neruda poem], ODE. A fresh ODE clue! Had not read this before today. Here, have a look, and try not to picture what Neruda’s narrator’s feet look like. There is some “twice”/”doubly” content in the poem, but I’m not picking up a “hey, that’s the magical extra trick in the puzzle” vibe.
  • 1d. [Tower over the field], SILO. I like how “tower” feels like a verb here, but is actually an agricultural/architectural noun.
  • 9d. [Gets one over on], BOGEYS. This might have been the twistiest clue for me. It’s not “ooh, I really got one over on you/I tricked you,” it’s “scores one over par on, in golf.”
  • 80d. [Lead singer of rock’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs (who uses just the initial of her last name)], KAREN O. I’m pretty sure that I knew this only from crosswords by Francis Heaney and/or Brendan Emmett Quigley.
  • 82d. [Author born Truman Streckfus Persons], CAPOTE. What?! This is trivia I somehow did not know. Am glad to learn it.
  • 89d. [Pig in a poke or pigeon drop], CON GAME. Don’t know pigeon drop, nor pig in a poke as a con game. Are these magician things?

4.4 stars from me. (Edits in the post are rendered in italics.)

Gary Larson’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Building Vocabulary” — Jenni’s write-up

This is not my favorite kind of puzzle. The theme answers contain types of tools. As far as I can tell, that’s the whole thing. They’re clued straight, so there’s no wordplay. It played for me like a 21×21 themeless, and the fill was not exactly sparkling, so it felt like a not-so-great large themeless.

The theme answers:

Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2020, Gary Larson, “Building Vocabulary,” solution grid

  • 21a [Low-tech iCloud precursor] is a FILE CABINET.  I say “filing cabinet” and Google Ngram agrees with me that “filing” is more common. The curve has an interesting spike in 1938. I have no idea why.
  • 23a [Supreme effort] is LEVEL BEST.
  • 32d [Place to spin your wheels] is a ROLLER RINK.
  • 43a [Boot camp bigwig] is the DRILL SERGEANT. SERGEANT is one of the those words that always looks misspelled to me.
  • 65a [Billowy attire named for an early rapper] are HAMMER PANTS.
  • 88a [’60s-’70s NBC News White House correspondent] is SANDER VANOCUR. Oh, COME ON.
  • 112a [Flier’s concern] is PLANE FARE.
  • 115a [Manicurist’s item] is a NAIL CLIPPER.

I thought the theme was “meh” until I got to SANDER VANOCUR and then it dropped to “feh.”

I could do without ACNED ever appearing again in a puzzle. Nothing else jumps out at me as bad fill; we have a bit of crosswordese (YSER and URAL and LA RAM come to mind). Looking at it again, I think it’s partly the grid I don’t like. The longest answers are 11 letters, so it’s chopped-up and there are a lot of three-letter words. That grid with a lackluster theme and a horrible theme answer = no fun.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that MIRA means “look!” in Spanish.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “All-Around Player” – Jim Q’s writeup

At 27×23, this puzzle might be too big for solving on the john, but boy that would be very, very meta.

THEME: Famous people named JOHN are on the edges of the puzzle. The first letters of their last names collectively spell IDRIS ELBALUTHER.

Washington Post, September 06, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “All Around Player” solution grid


Here’s a list of the JOHNs in the puzzle:

  • DEAN
  • LUND
  • TESH
  • HURT
  • EVAN
  • REID


  • 94A [With 95 Across, NBA star born on Sept. 6, and a hint to this puzzle’s edges] JOHN WALL. 
  • 36D [NBA team that drafted 94 & 95 Across in 2010] WASHINGTON WIZARDS. 

I may have missed something in the theme, so feel free to let me know! I’m neither familiar with JOHN WALL nor the TV show LUTHER, so there may be a very cool element I’m missing. Sounds like a nifty show though! Is it worth watching? I mean… ELBA was clearly at his best in the Cats adaptation, which is sadly the last thing I saw in theaters before the shutdown.

Evan provides solvers with a note before solving this one: Reading clockwise from top left, the circled squares will spell out an actor born on Sept. 6 and his apt TV role. 

Happy birthday, IDRIS ELBA! And the role is, of course, {JOHN} LUTHER.

As for the wall of JOHNs, I really didn’t notice until after I finished solving! There were more than a few that were unfamiliar to me. For instance, I thought RAMBO was just… RAMBO. Like Cher, or Adele. DEAN, IRELAND, HURT, EVAN, LUND, and REID didn’t ring a bell during the solve either. So I mostly solved this as a themeless. I was actually surprised how much bite I came across in the clues. I figured since it was oversized, the cluing would be much easier than usual, but I didn’t find that to be true.


  • 46D [Phrase about an exciting event that may be typed with a fire emoji] IT’S LIT. Is “LIT” as a slang word still a thing? I’m surprised it stayed around for as long as it did… It reminded me of when we used to say “Phat” in middle school and in retrospect it just sounds dumb.
  • 160A [Walker on a spine] ALICE. Needed every cross and then stared at it before an excellent AHA. Usually, I don’t fall for these types of clues. It’s referring to the author, ALICE Walker. Her name would be featured on the spine of her books.
  • 5D [Crib sheet locale?] NURSERY. Cute.
  • 101A [Make doodles of poodles, say] DRAW. I like the singsong rhyminess, which made the cross reference strange to me: 51A [Like the reference to poodles in 101 Across] RANDOM. It doesn’t seem random to me because of the rhyme. I think it would be far more random is it were, say, [Make doodles of dachshunds].
  • 123D [Apple base] MAC USERS. I put in MAC STAND first. That, of course, is not a thing.



I’d be lying if I said this was my favorite WaPo, but I’m sure it will delight LUTHER and IDRIS ELBA fans. Or JOHN WALL fans. Them too. Still hard for me to tell which one is the honoree of the puzzle… even the (excellent) title fits either!

Robert H. Wolfe’s Universal crossword — “Educational Fun” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Timely puzzle, since we’re all headed back to school… sortakindanotreally.

THEME: Common phrases are interpreted wackily as having to do with school.

Universal crossword solution · “Educational Fun” · Robert H. Wolfe · Sun., 9.06.20


  • 17A [Taking attendance, say?] CLASS ACTION. 
  • 11D [Blurb in a book?] TEXT MESSAGE. 
  • 25D [Fine point within a secondary field?] MINOR DETAIL. 
  • 59A [Quarters, e.g. … or 17-Across and 11- and 25-Down, after being reinterpreted?] SCHOOL TERMS. 

This is the kind of Universal puzzle I like. A tight, consistent wordplay theme. I particularly liked CLASS ACTION and TEXT MESSAGE. MINOR DETAIL feels like it had to do a little more than the others to fit in.

Had the most trouble in the NE since I entered FOE for 3D [7-Across, to Brutus] without looking at the cross reference. In retrospect, it’s rather delightful to think of an EGG as Brutus’s worst enemy.

The word count here, at 80, is awfully high. That typically means a lot of short fill that constant solvers are very familiar with, and this time is no exception. XER, A-TEAMS, BRA, LEI, EEL, MIC, SRS… ya’ know. That stuff.

Still, can’t complain too much about it. Especially with school opening in two days (for me). My mind is elsewhere!

3.2 stars.

Debbie Ellerin’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Dis-tortion”—Jim P’s review

Theme: DIS- is added to the beginning of well-known phrases. The revealer at 125a, AGREE TO DISAGREE, is clued [Leave an argument unresolved, and a theme hint]. You can re-interpret that phrase as “changing AGREE to DISAGREE” which is a subtle but clever way to hint that we’re adding DIS- to the other themers.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Dis-tortion” · Debbie Ellerin · 9.6.20

  • 23a. [Toss some junk mail?] DISCARD CATALOGS. I signed up for years ago, and I think they do a good job of reducing all those unwanted catalogs.
  • 32a. [Turning off phone notifications, say?] DISTRACTION CONTROL. We should all exercise this more often, yes?
  • 50a. [Deem “please” and “thank you” unimportant?] DISMISS MANNERS. And we shouldn’t do this, no?
  • 72a. [Have a sale on woolly animals?] DISCOUNT SHEEP
  • 93a. [Place poultry in the window?] DISPLAY CHICKEN
  • 110a. [Talk about a sky-colored line?] DISCUSS A BLUE STREAK

As you’d expect from a professional constructor like Ms. Ellerin, the addition of the prefix completely changes the meaning of the affected word. That is, the prefix doesn’t just turn the affected word into its opposite, as “disagree” does to “agree.” The fun is had when the change results in something completely unexpected. For that reason, I think I like DISMISS MANNERS the best.

In the fill, I’m partial to SAINT NICK, CUTS CLASS, NETIZEN (even though I doubt anyone uses that anymore), “YAY TEAM!”, SVELTE, and HOSERSMOSCATO is good, too, even though that’s a bit too sweet for my tastes.

I did not know actress LAINIE Kazan who was in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies and was nominated for numerous awards. Nor did I know MT COOK, [Highest peak in N.Z.].

Clues of note:

  • 41a. [Badger or hound … or an old horse]. NAG. Nice clue. Only one of those is an animal.
  • 57a. [Flight for one]. SOLO. Ach! I read this as “Flight, for one” until just now. Got me.

Enjoyable theme and fill. 3.8 stars.

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34 Responses to Sunday, September 6, 2020

  1. Judy Pozar says:

    I was thrown by 44a: U preceder, with the answer of VEE. Now I get it. Double U (W) preceder! So, there are 10 theme entries. Cool.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    That dusty VEE comes at 44a, (Double) U, or the letter “W”.

  3. Martin says:

    I’m not sure everyone gets that all the across clues numbered with xx digits (11, 22, 33, …) are themers. Missing 44 makes me suspect even Amy might have missed that. Of course 111-Across is tripled.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Dude, seriously? I explicitly wrote “All the ‘doubles’ are doubled numbers (11, 22, etc.) and the Triple A bit comes at 111a.” I spaced on 44, but then again, I was up till 3:30 a.m. fighting an alarm system that wanted to make noise and it’s been a long dayweekmonthyear.

  4. Howard B says:

    Loved the theme idea while solving (and looking at you, 111A!), but a couple of those clue/answer pairs were just alien to me. 55A especially, where I didn’t understand the clue, hadn’t heard of the answer, nor the relation between the two. I hadn’t heard of the answer to 99A, so that was tricky. Nice to find these knowledge gaps, but that was a lot of grid real estate to brute-force through via the Downs or play hangman with.

    I’ll always admire a good concept though, and what I don’t know isn’t the constructor’s fault.

  5. janie says:

    i particularly liked the meta feel of YOU ONLY LIVE *TWICE* — not unlike the delight of seeing AMAZING [DO]GRACE in barbara lin’s “musical interlude” puzz two weeks ago.


  6. john morgan says:

    Well, this is one of the many reasons I’ve been reading this blog all these many years. I didn’t have much trouble with the puzzle but I thought the theme was blah and some of the fill was annoying. But then (as so often happens) you and others here showed me that I was just dense and had missed a lot of it. Sorry I doubted you, David Kwong. Thanks for the explanation!

  7. pannonica says:

    NYT: Just an odd coincidence, but 18d NILS Lofgren’s early band was the quasi-eponymous GRIN, which is located symmetrically opposite at 103d.

  8. Samuel says:

    77A with four names all intersecting in a 2×2 square (TINKER, OMEARA, KARENO, SERT) felt unfair. I respect the gimmick, but didn’t enjoy the puzzle.

  9. JohnH says:

    I admire this puzzle a lot more now, having read the explanation and comments filling it out, not least because, embarrassingly, I never fully grasped the theme. As I worked, I was put off by what felt like too much I didn’t know mixed with too much that’s too familiar from puzzles. The clue for EULER manages both: if it’s a mathematician in a crossword, who else could it be?

    To the extent that I got the theme, it was in stages, which is worth valuing. I first noted that some short entries seemed not to be specified adequately in the clue, like the “result,” so I made a mental note that the theme must be about missing parts to clues. But they weren’t in obvious places, while I could see that the long entries matter.

    There my first was the longest, which came quickly from crossings, although to the last I had to play around with a dimly remembered bit of trivia. (Was it Tinker or Tinkers? Ever of Evan? I see on Wiki that it’s famous to non-baseball fans because of an old poem none of us have heard of.) But the theme didn’t hit me right off, as “play” by itself could mean baseball. Then I got the idea of “double” from 07, and it seemed to work, even if the publisher and hotel chain were a tad unusual entries. (You don’t often see “and company” in full.) So great.

    But then what about the short ones? There it held me back that “double dutch” is one of the things I didn’t recognize. And also “double result” didn’t come quickly, since it’s the only such use of “double” in the puzzle that doesn’t produce a stand-alone phrase, a flaw I think. I got them, but never did make the connection to clue numbers. (Not sure how to.) And I was thrown by “triple A,” since I hadn’t made much less thus further extended that connection. I left just thinking that “double A” was a mistake in the puzzle.

    So hard one to rate, and I won’t. Very, very impressive. And yet. Maybe it was just me.

    • Steve Manion says:

      “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”
      These are the saddest of possible words:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
      Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
      Tinker and Evers and Chance.
      Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,*
      Making a Giant hit into a double–
      Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”**

      They were all admitted to the Hall of Fame at the same time. When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, it was their first World Series win since they won back to back titles in 1907 and 1908 when their poetical infield played.


      • JohnH says:

        Interesting, thanks. And here I was just the other day for a puzzle racking my brain to remember who wrote Casey at the Bat. (True, it no longer counts exactly as poetry except for children, but as I kid I did memorize a huge chunk of it.)

    • Lise says:

      There are other cool mathematicians that make appearances in crosswords: Euclid, Paul Erdös, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, John Nash, John Napier (of logarithms fame) and Alan Turing, to name a few. I’m always glad to see math and science entries.

      This was a cool puzzle. I didn’t get the double-numbered clues until I wondered why triple-A was such an outlier, and why the double clues seemed randomly distributed. Super creation, Mr. Kwong! What will you pull out of your hat next?

      • JohnH says:

        Sorry for the exaggeration. (I like math, too. A physics major, the kind that didn’t do experiments, only equations.) But five letters made it a gimme.

        (I see ADA and TURING all the time, but I don’t recall seeing the others in a puzzle. No doubt my faulty memory.)

  10. anon says:

    WaPo review: “123D [Apple base] MAC USERS. I put in MAC STAND first. That, of course, is not a thing.”

    Yes it is:

    • Jim Q says:

      I meant “not a thing” in the sense that it’s not an in-language phrase. Thanks for this, though. Out of my price range.

  11. Erik says:

    I think the NYT puzzle is getting brutalized a bit in the ratings. I’m glad Amy liked it. I did too. Enjoyable, cool theme. There are nits to pick, but there usually are. Solid work, I thought.

  12. Me says:

    Jim Q, thanks for the detailed explanation for Evan’s WaPo puzzle. I really needed it today! (Evan, another impressive construction feat, to have all those Johns around the edge AND have them spell out IDRISELBALUTHER!) Although it’s indicated in the clue, I completely missed the “wall of Johns” aspect to the edge until I came here.

    Partially because of missing the Wall of Johns, I assumed that LUTHER, which I’d never heard of, was about Martin Luther, whom I know very little about beyond his name. I googled Sept 6 and Luther, and found out that Martin Luther sent his writings to the Pope on Sept 6, 1520, which eventually led to his excommunication. I had a “Today I Learned” moment, thought “That’s why the series is apt for the puzzle,” and went home happy. Until coming here and finding out that I missed the whole Luther’s-first-name-is-John part. Whoops… That’s why I come here!

    I’m also very impressed with David Kwong’s NYT construction. To have so many of the clues fall on the correct number must have been very hard to keep up during the construction process. I loved the puzzle!

  13. Norm says:

    Didn’t like the NYT while solving it; still don’t. If all the “fun” is in the clues, you lose me as a fan.

  14. AV says:

    NYT: Good concept, but not too well executed. From David, I expected 77 and 88 down to have the “double” touch as well.

  15. Rammy M says:

    Seeing the title, and a few of the downs, I quickly got “07 film”, but thought the answer would be: You only Live “Once”, or “four times” or something, so it didn’t make sense that the answer was the actual title.
    Anyway long story short, I got the long answers, and managed to fill it all in, but was confused by some, so I went to the NYT wordplay column, to find out what (else) was going on.
    Very clever.

  16. Billy Boy says:

    I don’t get the low number voted for NYT today, and I’m the guy who goes meh at big puzzles. I thought it cool.

    And I’m not even seeing that OO7 today …

  17. marciem says:

    I didn’t get the NYT theme for the longest time after I finished the puzzle, which made the AHA sweeter still. I’d never heard of the book company named, so Doubleday didn’t come automatically, and Tree took a while too. Well all of the short ones too. I never did get the AAA (111a) thing, which is another reason I come here :) . Short story long, I ended up loving the NYT today in all its elegance. Well done!

    Same with WaPo… didn’t until the end “get” all the Johns for while, didn’t know what the stars meant. Another nice after-the-fact AHA. I do love Idris Elba (been a fan since his Stringer Bell days on The Wire) and “Luther” is a great streamer since it’s ended now. (spoiler alert) Sometimes needed a break from his emotional outbursts .

  18. Ethan Friedman says:

    Amy, important to note (as an Austinite!): Austin is on *a* Colorado River, not *the* Colorado River. At least not the one everyone thinks of that has a pretty ok canyon and dam on it.

    Not that ours isn’t pretty (and Lake Travis is gorgeous) but … maybe not QUITE as spectacular. (You can tell while I may be an Austinite I’m not a native Austinite as no native Texan would ever dare suggest the state isn’t #1 in everything.)

  19. Reid says:

    I voted the NYT low for two reasons:

    1. Virtually everything in the puzzle was OLD. very little pop culture from this century, and a lot of reliance on old phrases/sayings.

    2. The short theme answers were too easy to miss and just made the puzzle a lot more obtuse.

  20. Richelle says:

    Okay, Maybe I am reading to much into the theme of this puzzle as I am High Functioning Autistic, but I was looking for some slight of hand in the puzzle and came up with this:

    1. 33 Across answer “You only Live Twice” Twice the first word (homophone for U) or double U
    2. 44 Across clue requiring Double U to get the answer ‘Vee’

    3. 77 Down clued with ‘You to Yves’ with 77 = 33 plus 44 or Double U’s again with the first word of the clue being You

    Now like I said, maybe I am reading too much into it, but I found it fascinating, and it seems beyond mere coincidence.

    Just thought I would share this with others to see what they think.

  21. Funny thing about John EVAN — the name Evan is the Welsh form of the name John, so the former Jethro Tull keyboardist is essentially John John.

    And that clue for DRAW was my wife’s clue that I’d been holding onto for over two years. She had suggested it for a previous puzzle of mine in 2018, but one of my test-solvers felt it was too random. So I resolved that the next time I had the word RANDOM, I would do my best to sneak in DRAW or DREW or DRAWS and link the two. I guess that’s one benefit of a super-sized puzzle — there’s more room to fit in off-theme clues and answers to your heart’s content.

    Above all I’m just glad that the phrase “doodles of poodles” exists in a puzzle now.

    • David Steere says:

      WaPo: I’m very embarrassed to admit, Evan, I did not even notice the “wall of Johns” when I did your puzzle last night. That may also be partly due to my never having heard of John Wall–another source of embarrassment, I guess. I got Idris Elba and “Luther” and enjoyed that discovery. Little did I realize there was so much else going on. Even without your explanation of “random” and “draw,” I laughed aloud at “doodles of poodles.” As to my low rating of the NYT puzzle, I just couldn’t appreciate it. Felt arbitrary and like a slog to me–a familiar feeling with Sunday Times puzzles.


  22. scrivener says:

    NYT: Mid-solve, because of some tentative down answers (SHADES where OXIDES went), I was sure there was some way to muscle “halfsies” into 11A (“Dutch requirement”), thinking there was some prestigitation with doubles and halves. Alas.

  23. Dr Fancypants says:

    It really doesn’t help with grokking the theme that, on the app, the number doesn’t appear in front of the clue—it only appears on the grid itself (and is teeny-tiny if you’re solving on a phone, as I do).

    But even after having the theme explained, I was simply not a fan of this puzzle. The only themer that I particularly liked was the Bond film; outside the themers, KAREN O is the only fill that sparkled for me (yeah, I’m a big Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs fan). That’s far too little to enjoy in such a big grid.

  24. Mary P says:

    Question for Jenni: why did the Sander Vanocur clue bother you so much? Had you not heard of him? He was very well known for decades but perhaps you are too young to have seen him on tv. Most puzzles have stuff one doesn’t know, but this one seemed to really bother you.

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