Sunday, September 20, 2020

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 15:35* (Amy) 


WaPo 13:25 (Jim Q) 


Universal 4:12 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:00 (Jim P) 


Sam Trabucco’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 9 20 20, “Word Ladders”

The * on my solving time is because I’d had my first margarita in probably 7 or 8 months and I could barely stay awake through the puzzle. I think it was me and not the puzzle! And the delay in posting is because when I was finally awake enough to blog, I couldn’t get the site to load, no idea why.

So quickly, before WordPress locks me out again: The “Word Ladders” theme is that the circled answers make a word ladder that progresses from RISE (through RILE FILE FILL) to FALL, and those words serve as “ladders” that the Across entries climb up and down. 18a is SURP[RISE]PARTY, zigzagging down, and 31a is UND[ESIR]ABLE, zigzagging up. 28a STERILE GLOVE, 46a TRAVEL IRON. 62a PROFILE PIC, 78a the terrific FOR THE LIFE OF ME. 96a FRUIT FILLING, 114a MOLLIFYING. 110a ROOT OF ALL EVIL, 130a VANILLA FLAN (are there non-vanilla flans?). Neat. Plenty of juicy long fill, like LOOK ALIVE, ALLEN IVERSON, MIXED REVIEWS, I CALL DIBS, and RANSOM NOTE. I don’t love LETS LIE across from LIE DETECTOR. Overall vibe, four stars.

Dan Margolis’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Additionally” — Jenni’s write-up

I really enjoyed this puzzle! It’s a wordplay theme I haven’t seen before (or haven’t seen recently enough for it to matter) and it was fun to solve.

Each theme answer has “ly” added (as the title tells us). Wackiness results.

Los Angeles Times puzzle, September 20, 2020, Dan Margolis, “Additionally,” solution grid

  • 12d [Singer Simon, refusing to take a limo?] is SELFDRIVING CARLY. I don’t need to tell you that the base phrase is “self-driving car,” do I? Didn’t think so. This one took me way longer than it should have because I was thinking of the wrong Simon.
  • 16d [Part-time lawyer?] is ATTORNEY GENERALLY. I don’t get the clue. Why does “generally ” equal part-time?
  • 23a [Like a three-year-old after a tough year, to Mom?] is FINALLY FOUR. I was that mom. Three almost broke me. Two happened to her. Three was on purpose.
  • 34d [Hospital worker on trial?] is ORDERLY IN THE COURT. This one also took me a bit longer than it should have because I haven’t seen an ORDERLY since my candy striper days 40+ years ago. It’s a totally fair entry – this was my issue.
  • 39d [Paul Simon song about a budding international union?] is YOU CAN CALL ME ALLY. This may be my favorite, in part because I like the song. This is also when I realized that 12d had to be a different Simon.
  • 107a [Peacock, say?] is a STATELY BIRD.

All the base phrases are solidly in the language. The theme helped with the solve but it wasn’t obvious; there was some work to do to figure out each theme answer. The “aha!” moment was very satisfying. I also really like the arrangement of theme entries. They sort of pinwheel around the grid. Aside from the clue for 16d (and maybe I’m just being dense this morning) it was a really good theme set. Thanks, Dan and Rich!

A few other things:

  • I would be perfectly fine never seeing EZINE in a puzzle again. Same for OLLA (although if it’s OK for NYT crosswords, it should be OK for the Spelling Bee, but I digress).
  • I had CLAM for a long time for 29d, [Shellfish serving]. It’s CLAW. Either way, delicious.
  • COOERS is awkward, but the clue redeemed it. [Doves and loves] made me smile.
  • 84a [Short program] is an APPLET, not a one-act play.
  • 103a [Bit of handiwork?] is a good clue for MANI.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that LYRA is the protagonist of “His Dark Materials” (never read it). Also did not know that the MGM Resorts reward program is M LIFE.

This is what I was listening to as I wrote this.

Jason Mueller’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Nesters”—Jim P’s review

This puzzle’s gone to the birds. Each theme answer is a phrase that includes a type of bird which also has an E somewhere in it. That E starts an EGG in the Down direction in each of the theme answers, though the EGG is disguised (a la a cuckoo bird?) inside another fill entry.

Universal crossword solution · “Nesters” · Jason Mueller · 9.20.20

  • 22a. [*Get cold feet] CHICKEN OUT with 19d [Basketball great Miller] REGGIE.
  • 24a. [*Clue character in a blue dress] MRS PEACOCK with 25d [Ryan of “New Amsterdam”] EGGOLD.
  • 56a. [*”Descendants” star] DOVE CAMERON with 51d [Mila Kunis’ role on “Family Guy”] MEG GRIFFIN.
  • 86a. [*Snitch] STOOL PIGEON with 80d [Three-___ race] LEGGED.
  • 119a. [*Reaction to cold or fright] GOOSE BUMPS with 115d [“Hot Fuzz” star] PEGG.
  • 122a. [*Way to quit suddenly] COLD TURKEY with the revealer 124d [Item “laid” by a bird in each starred entry] EGG.

Wow! This is complicated. It seems simple, but in my mind it looks like it was a bear to construct. The main theme answers themselves are symmetrical, but the EGG words are not, and having those crossings of varying length seem like they add an extra level of complexity for the constructor. I am suitably impressed. There are a lot of proper names involved with the theme, including some I didn’t know, but I expect our constructor had limited choices in putting this thing together. Kudos on a job well done!

And yet there’s still enough long sparkly answers to satisfy that itch. I especially liked the MORDECAI / MOOD INDIGO stack, A LA CARTE, HELL TO PAY, LAST STOP, DR DOOM, and most especially EMMA PEEL, aka Dame Diana Rigg who just past away. There’s a lone LOONIE at 46a who apparently didn’t get the memo about the theme and laid some EMTS, but we’ll give it a pass.

Clues of note:

  • 19a. [W-to-E direction, on a compass or keyboard]. RIGHT. Ah, I just got the keyboard meaning.
  • 97a. [2020 film about a cartoon dog]. SCOOB! News to me. Apparently this animated film came out in May and is meant to be a reboot of the franchise. Reviews were mixed.
  • 120d. [One is always wrong]. SIN. Even after I filled this in, I couldn’t be sure this wasn’t about trigonometry.

I’m really impressed with this grid. 4.25 stars.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Mixed Drinks” – Jim Q’s

A puzzle after a bartender’s heart… assuming that bartender has the worst taste in the world.

THEME: Two different drinks are “blended” together and result in (extremely) wacky phrases.

Washington Post, September 20, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Mixed Drinks” solution grid


  • 23A [Gin/vermouth cocktail + fermented malt drink = Falsehood about aliens?] MARTIAN LIE. Martini + Ale. 
  • 25A [Japanese rice wine + beer/lemonade drink = Two things that a mayor presents to a heroic beauty queen?] SASH AND KEYSake + Shandy.
  • 41A [Starbucks drink + German wine = Emotive shouts?] CRIES OF FEELINGCoffee + Riesling. 
  • 57A [Oktoberfest beverage + brandy cocktail = Final redheads-only MD workplace?] LAST GINGER E.RLager + Stinger.
  • 67A [Scotch whisky cocktail + dark beer = Rocker Zombie’s plaything that he brings on a band trip?] ROBS TOUR TOYRob Roy + Stout. 
  • 83A [Scottish liqueur + pirate’s rum drink = Roast the guy who epitomizes the pretense of being affluent?] DRAG MR. BOUGIEDrambuie + Grog.
  • 97A [Licorice-flavored liqueur + French wine = Parking area for hunting dogs in Japanese cartoons?] ANIME SETTER LOTAnisette + Merlot. 
  • 116A [Lemon-lime soda + bitter Polynesian brew = Military recruit who’s into the Specials, say?] SKA PRIVATESprite + Kava. 
  • 120A [Cuban rum cocktail + dark German beer = Judge Lance, if he were an athletic member of a criminal syndicate?] MOB JOCK ITOMojito + Bock. 

Look… if you’re gonna go for wacky answers, go big or go home. These are over-the-top Birnholzian in their wackiness, and I love it. To be honest, for all but one of the answers, I figured it out by the drinks themselves before even reading the second half of the clue, then I went back and parsed the answer. SKA PRIVATE was the one I figured out by reading the second half of the clue since I’m unfamiliar with KAVA.

I’m not entirely sure I’m parsing DRAG MR. BOUGIE correctly since I don’t really equate the words DRAG and “Roast,” and MR. BOUGIE seems really out there, but that’s the only one that doesn’t land solidly for me. The others I enjoyed thoroughly, but ROB’S TOUR TOY takes the win.

I solved very steadily north to south, which is not typical for me, so it means I hit very few stumbling blocks. My favorite clue today was 63A [Bathroom in Tel Aviv?] LAV. LAV being hidden in TeL AViv, of course. Nothing much else really stuck out to me in the fill, but that’s probably because I was so looking forward to the next theme answer every time. I was disappointed only when I got to the end and there were no more.

Great puzzle, Evan.

P.S. Evan also issued a challenge to me, and I’m going to issue it to everyone else as well. Here it is:

Make any one of the cocktails in the theme answers and report back to me how it tastes.


I’ll have that challenge completed by next Sunday and I’ll post the result here.

I am not looking forward to that.


Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword — “Not a Big Deal” – Jim Q’s Write-up

THEME: Two-word phrases where both words an precede “Card.”

Universal crossword solution · “Not a Big Deal” · Winston Emmons · Sun., 9.20.20


  • 17A [*Nonprofit lending cooperative] CREDIT UNION. Credit Card. Union Card.
  • 11D [*1983 movie in which Jennifer Beals plays an aspiring ballerina] FLASHDANCE. Flash Card. Dance Card. 
  • 29D [*Table that often has a project column] TIME REPORT. Time Card. Report Card. 
  • 63A [Initial blackjack hand, or what can follow both parts of each starred answer?] PAIR OF CARDS. 

What really sold this puzzle for me was the fill. Particularly the clue for 49A [Author/comedian Cooper] SARAH. She only recently garnered national attention since her viral TikToks lip-syncing #45’s oft-confusing rhetoric became mainstream. You can find her on YouTube if you are unfamiliar with her. Very, very entertaining… and somewhat scary.

Also enjoyed the apt clue for 65D [Abbr. within “home run derbies”] RBI. Nice find!

As far as the theme goes… it gets a “meh” from me. I didn’t see it until after I had uncovered the revealer, which doesn’t really strike me as a stand-alone phrase that could serve as a basis for a theme: PAIR OF CARDS. Also, I’m unfamiliar with the term DANCE CARD. I was going to say I was unfamiliar with FLASH CARD as well, but then… duh. Of course I remember FLASHCARDS from elementary school!

2.9 stars from me today. Enjoy Sunday!

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24 Responses to Sunday, September 20, 2020

  1. Greg says:

    Loved Sam Trabucco’s NYT puzzle. What a prodigious feat of construction, making intersecting actual ladders, to freshen up the old word ladder device.

  2. AJS says:

    Enjoyed the NYT, but my gosh, Evan was on fire over at WaPo! That was really delightfully fun.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    Outstanding NYT, best in a long time. Not only a constructing tour de force, but fun to solve. I loved this very fresh take on the word ladder.

  4. Jenni Levy says:

    Groaned when I saw the title of the Times and was delighted to discover the twist. That was fun!

  5. Billy Boy says:

    NYT was indeed a fine construction. Puzzle was challenging because the trivia was pretty varied. I was a little slow to pick up the trick exactly, but I enjoyed it in the end. Well done. If I can find the time, I’ll try to get to Evan’s Puzzle, everyone seems to love it.

    • Thanks, all.

      Billy, just one guy’s obviously biased opinion, but I think you should get to my puzzle every week, not just if you can find the time. :)

      • Billy Boy says:

        Big formats are endurance challenging for me as they often require that extra bit of fill that gets tedious as I am not fast, a 21×21 can take me 35:00-1:00 . So when the themers are nonsensical, I sometimes figure hose out and move on.

        I do enjoy yours, I really likes that long horizontal one about two months ago, wow, that was cool. I was really bust yesterday and haven’t done it yet … But I did just print the A-lite on the back of my Mon WSJ.

        Cheers, Evan

      • Billy Boy says:

        LAST GINGER E.R. was my favourite

        I hope that that never happens, my red-headed ER Nurses were always the best, especially in Chicago.

        Fun puzzle. Will have to do them on Mondays, thanks for the nudge E

  6. MattF says:

    NYT was fun, but slow, for me. Figured out the trick pretty quickly— last fill was correcting CITRITE/CITRINE. Also think AMOK is a better answer to its clue than AGOG for 129A.

  7. WhiskyBill says:

    LAT, 16D: I think it’s meant to be parsed, “ATTORNEY, GENERALLY.”

  8. M483 says:

    Sunday Universal: The “complicated theme” was not worth the huge number of proper names, especially the unusual first names. There were 4 unfair crossings of names in the theme material alone just to get those 2 g’s in egg. I do crosswords for fun, not to be awed by complex
    construction or to search the internet for a bunch of names that are of no interest to me.
    Altogether there were just too many proper nouns in this puzzle.

  9. R says:

    WaPo: DRAG as slang meaning “roast” or “criticize” goes back a while and is now starting to hit mainstream usage, especially for online roasting and criticism. Example

    • John says:

      The NYT was a fine piece of construction that held my attention and made for a pleasurable solve. The WaPo was flat out fun. I ended up solving counterclockwise from NW ending with”sashandkey” which was great.

      Thanks for the entertainment guys.

  10. Lise says:

    WaPo: Although this is not precisely one of the Birnholzian Combos, awhile back, my husband was making a mojito and discovered he was out of soda water, so he substituted a lager. He calls it a Beerjito. He said it was pretty good.

    He says he may try a martini and ale. If he does, I’ll post the results next Sunday.

    Fun puzzle!

  11. Lise says:

    NYT: I had a great time with this. After I got the first theme answer, I figured out what the last ladder word had to be, filled in the others with the most likely candidates, completed the theme and went back to the fill. It was a fun way to do a puzzle, and I enjoyed discovering each theme answer in turn.

    This is a real feat of construction. I appreciate and am awed by the effort it must have taken to create. I feel that crossword constructing takes a certain kind of mind that I admire very much; I’ve tried, and haven’t come up with anything anyone would want to solve, so kudos to all of you, and thanks for the fun!

  12. Mary P says:

    Enjoyed Birnholz but don’t get skaprivate. Special K cereal? Some kind of special forces? Ska is music or am I missing something recent and hip?

  13. Crotchety Doug says:

    WaPo – Sorry to be so late. I just finished Evan’s puzzle and it was pretty entertaining. I wouldn’t mind trying any of the drinks that involved some type of beer (Martian Ale, Last Ginger ER, Robs Tour Toy, Drag Mr Bougie, or Mob Jock Ito). But I probably won’t.

    I googled “mr bougie” with and without quotes, and have no idea which Mr. Bougie is referred to. Anyone?

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