Sunday, October 18, 2020

LAT 8:10 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:55 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:44 (Jim P) 


Miriam Estrin’s New York Times crossword, “Title Basin”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 10 18 20, “Title Basin”

The title is a pun on tidal basin, though there is nothing particularly basin-like to the theme. The six themers are puns based on book titles:

  • 23a. [Yann Martel’s baking memoir?], LIFE OF PIE. Pi.
  • 30a. [F. Scott Fitzgerald’s chivalric tale?], TENDER IS THE KNIGHT. Night.
  • 46a. [Voltaire’s sweet novel?], CANDIED. Candide isn’t pronounced the same as CANDIED, though.
  • 63a. [Marcel Proust’s kitchen mystery?], IN SEARCH OF LOST THYME. Time. We used to call it Remembrance of Things Past in English.
  • 90a. [Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s pet story?], THE LITTLE PRINTS. Prince.
  • 112a. [William Shakespeare’s historical romance?], JULIUS SEES HER. Ha! Caesar.

Not much of a common thread—one play, one novella, one kids’ book, and three novels. Five with the last word changed, one that’s a one-word title that changes (and also changes pronunciation). Three are food-based, three are not. Given how many possibilities there are for such a theme, it’d have been good to strive for more uniformity. All novels, say. Or all food-related puns. (War and Peas! Definite pronunciation shift there, though.) All books made into well-known movies (with “adapted screenplay” perhaps useful for the puzzle’s title).

Overall, the fill was rough. I did like SLUGFESTS, HOTDESK ([Share a workspace, in modern lingo]), GERTRUDE Stein, “… AND SCENE!” and the Japanese neighbors SENSEI and WASABI. But it felt like there was more OSSO, ORLY, TEHEE, and the like than I want to see. Given the inclusion of just six themers, smoother fill overall is probably doable with more effort and a willingness to rip out whole sections in search of better entries.

Five more things:

  • 3d. [Go back to square one], START ANEW. What? No. Did we all plunk in START OVER and erase a few letters when the crossings denied OVER?
  • 57d. [Giggle], TEHEE. Constructors, if this is in your word lists, consider removing it or giving it a low score.
  • 50a. [Scan that excites hydrogen atoms, for short], MRI. I love this clue! It taught me something medical/scientific.
  • 67d. [What can take a punch?], LADLE. Cute clue. As in punch in a punchbowl.
  • 51a. [Can’t keep one’s mouth shut?], YAWNS. Another nice clue. Did reading this make you yawn?


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Expansion Pack” – Jim Q’s

THEME: Initials in common names/phrases are reimagined as an initial for something else and “expanded,” or fully spelled out.

Washington Post, October 18, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Expansion Pack” solution grid


  • 24A [*U.S. president who signed the Marshall Plan (direction)] HARRY S. OUTH TRUMAN.
  • 27A [*Music festival swag (test answer)] T-RUE SHIRTS.
  • 38A [*Like “Argo” or “Fargo” (gearshift option)] RATED R EVERSE.
  • 49A [*Pizza chain that once featured animatronic shows (drug)] CHUCK E. CSTASY CHEESE. 
  • 75A [*Some steak orders (ideal gas law variable)] T-EMPERATURE BONES. 
  • 96A [*Major antioxidant in orange juice (scale)] VITAMIN C ELSIUS
  • 114A [*Time to attack (element)] H YDROGEN HOUR. 

And of course, there’s another Birnholzian layer wherein the initials spell out an appropriate word, in this case: STRETCH.

Odd one to figure out. I caught on with CHUCK E. ?????? CHEESE and finally asked myself What else can E stand for? ECSTASY of course! Also, the result is a very, very strangely themed restaurant.

The biggest distraction for me was reading the clue for 38A. I was distracted because I suddenly remembered there’s a new season of the outstanding TV show Fargo out, and I confess I stopped solving to watch the first episode before falling asleep on the couch. So… yeah… major distraction.

Really struggled in the south with HBO / HYDROGEN area. For 127A [Black trailer?] I had ISH and I was very confident with it (as in the TV show “Blackish”). I also had NITROGEN. Since HHOUR is not a familiar term to me, any initial would’ve worked. Made my way out eventually after erasing the whole area and trying a couple alternate answers.

Nice to see a new clue for ENOLA!

And an excellent clue for 93A [Mid-Atlantic colonist?] ANT. The word ANT appears in Mid-Atlantic.

Enjoy your Sunday!


Gary Larson’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Driver’s Ed” — Jenni’s write-up

I enjoyed the theme except for one thing.

Let’s start with the fun. Each theme answer has a two-word base phrase that ends with the name of a car. There’s an ED added to the first word. Wackiness results.

Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2020, Gary Larson, “Driver’s Ed,” solution grid

  • 15d [Took Honda SUVs for demo drives?] is TESTED PILOTS.
  • 23a [Wrecked Mitsubishi SUVs?] is TOTALED ECLIPSES. I always want to spell TOTALED with two Ls. It’s always wrong.
  • 36a [Followed Chevy SUVs?] is TRAILED BLAZERS.
  • 61d [Cleaned the interior of Geo compacts?] is DUSTED STORMS.
  • 66a [Found spots for Ford pickups?] is PARKED RANGERS.
  • 97a [Selected classic VWs at an online auction?] is CLICKED BEETLES. I think we’re more likely to click on something.
  • 112a [Pointed the way for Subaru SUVs?] is DIRECTED ASCENTS.

All the base phrases are solid and the ED alterations are amusing. I’m not crazy about the plurals. Since they’re consistent, I realize this is totally a personal thing and not a valid complaint. I don’t why I’m not crazy about it. I’m just not. There are a couple of other awkward plurals (MASALASBETSYS). It’s still a fun theme.

A few other things:

  • 20a [Cry out loud] is WAIL, and now I have this stuck in my head. You’re welcome.
  • 31a [Iconic ’60s-’70s TV caretaker] is a nice misdirection for AUNT BEE.
  • Junior year, one of my profs took issue with my word choice. On the top of my paper, he wrote “SOCIETAL is not a word. Tell all your friends.” Time has proved him wrong.
  • Speaking of things that are not a word, WIELDY? Really? I would be gruntled if I never saw that in a puzzle again.
  • I AM TINO: new autobiography about the 1990s Yankee Dynasty.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Isabel Allende wrote a book called AVA Luna. I also have never heard of LAUREN Shehadi, and I had never heard of NATE Dogg, a cousin and collaborator of Snoop.

Sebastian L. Iger’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Developing the Backcountry”—Jim P’s review

Well that was different. I didn’t take the time to fully process the the theme until I was all done. The clues for each theme answer were straightforward, so I solved it as a themeless and went back at the end to make sense of it all. I did note that the number of asterisks in the theme answers seemed to be increasing as I progressed down the grid.

Here’s what’s really going on. Theme answers are grouped according to the number of asterisks in the clues. The final words in each answer of the group spell out a country. I won’t list out all the clues for brevity’s sake.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Developing the Backcountry” · Sebastian L. Iger · 10.18.20

  • * 23a GETTING TO + 25a DO NOT PASS GO = TOGO. One of the smallest countries in Africa.
  • **** 77a WHEAT GERM + 91a HARDLY ANY = GERMANY.

This looks wickedly complicated to devise. First you have to find countries that you can parse into sections where each section is a standalone word in another phrase. Those other phrases (1) not only have to be commonly-enough known but (2) have to be placed in sequential order in the grid. This makes fitting everything symmetrically in the grid extra difficult since the constructor lacks the normal freedom to swap entries with a like number of letters to improve the fill.

So the fact that I didn’t notice any of this during the solve is an indication of how smooth the grid is despite some onerous limitations on grid design. Impressive execution!

My one nit is that I’m not sold on the use of the asterisks to group entries together; it feels pretty ungainly when you get to the bottom and three of the clues have five *s each. But I can’t think of a more succinct way to do it.

Highlights in the fill include NEPTUNE, TIKTOK, ANTMAN, TRIP METER, MEMOJI (crossing SHOJI), GAG REEL, and “SON OF A…”. I balked at DROLLER [More whimsically humorous], but you know what, there’s plenty of other good stuff to like and considering the theme constraints, it’s easy to give it a pass. Plus, it sits next to GAG REEL which somehow makes it feel all right.

Impressively designed puzzle with plenty of good fill worked in. Four stars. Oh hey! I think this is a debut. Congratulations on a really nice first grid.

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21 Responses to Sunday, October 18, 2020

  1. Maxine Nerdström says:

    I liked the NYT, but I might be biased because I got my ultimate best Sunday time! Easier to feel favorable when you conquer something, haha

  2. Ethan says:

    How long is it going to take for the NYT editing team to realize that TWEE is no longer a “Britishism”? Their own newspaper has used it 25 times this year!!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      That is terrrrrible!

      For example, [Ctry. of Americas that left 7 Down climate accord] is the tortured clue for the 2-letter answer US. No fewer than four of the 40-some clues happen to include “U.S.” Everything is science- or government-based, except there’s CHER! [Singer who turned back time. Musical partner championed protection of Salton Sea as politician]? Then there’s this clue: [Speed of U.S. vaccine effort]. Guess the answer.

  3. JohnH says:

    Amy nailed the NYT. I went into it really enthusiastic. At last a literary puzzle. But then it did seem awkwardly lacking a more unified theme, and the title is less than stellar. OTOH, I learned HOTDESK. I sure hope I never get forced into that lack of privacy.

  4. Martin says:

    “The title is a pun on tidal basin, though there is nothing particularly basin-like to the theme.”

    I interpreted “Basin” as part of the pun, on “title-basing.”

    • Karen says:

      Martin, I agree. The commonality in this theme is Titles – nothing else. The puns are based (as you said, ‘basing’) on titles of well-known works. I don’t think it’s necessary for them to be all one genre, nor related in any other way. I enjoyed the puzzle. Thank you, Miriam.

  5. Karen says:

    NYT: Re: Proust’s masterpiece. The book is actually a collection of six novels and the translation of it by CK Scott Moncrieff has been considered the go-to version (probably the only one, considering the work involved). “ Scott Moncrieff published the first volume of his Proust translation in 1922, and continued work on the enormous novel until his death in February 1930, at which time he was working on the final volume of the Remembrance. His choice of the title Remembrance of Things Past, by which Proust’s novel was known in English for many years, is not a literal translation of the original French. It is, in fact, taken from the second line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past”. (Wikipedia).

    The problem, which I and many students of French literature had, started with the title: “A la recherche du temps perdu,” which is not Remembrance and not Things Past. We were rewarded, finally, in 2002 a totally new translation entitled (Miriam Estrin uses correctly) “In Search of Lost Time.”

    For those who are interested, this is an excellent article about the new translation:

    Thanks for taking the “thyme” to read this post!

    • JohnH says:

      Overall, I think, Scott Moncrieff did a good job (although I have read only the first and last volumes in French). People often point out a disruption of expectations in the tense of the verb in the first sentence that he regularizes, but often he’s not that bad. Much of the text lacks the unfortunate artsy, romantic quality of that title. (“The Sweet Cheat Gone” for one volume may be even worse.) But so glad to have the new title recognized in a puzzle, for its accuracy alone on top of its tone.

      I do hesitate to speak of it as not a novel but a collection. That makes it sound far, far less meant as a whole than it is. The volumes read ok one by one, but they also read in sequence and pick up where the previous ones leave off. The first chapter of the last volume is all but impossible to make sense of otherwise. Even where it is, it feels a bit orphaned. Oh, and I believe you mean seven volumes.

      Can I also put in a word for Lydia Davis’s new translation of the first volume. I read just the first couple of pages in a bookstore and they brought tears to my eyes. She’s done much else that’s great as a translator and a novelist, too.

      • Karen says:

        Great to know, John. And thanks for your correction of 6 to 7. I did read in the NYT Book Review about the Davis translation, but not the actual book. Yet. I am plodding through the original in French. Several ago in France I purchased a unified paperback edition – 2408 pages. The paper is very fine, yet still weighs almost 4 pounds. I am still plodding.

    • Mark Abe says:

      That does clear things up, thank you. I only knew the old title and used Google to find the new one, after which the answer made sense. I didn’t stop to investigate why.

  6. David Steere says:

    WaPo: Tougher than usual for a Sunday from Evan. I even had to look up the definition of “expansion pack” after finishing since I’m not a game player. Almost like a Bizarro World puzzle in which a visit with the kids to the pizza and play outlet holds strange dangers. I loved this.

  7. Crotchety Doug says:

    LAT – 26A End-of-page abbr. = PTO. WTF? Paid Time Off, Power Take-Off, Parent-Teacher Organization are the only three meanings for PTO that I’m aware of, or that show up in the first six pages of Google hits. What am I missing?

    • Martin says:

      Please Turn Over.

      • Crotchety Doug says:

        Thanks. I have never seen that phrase. Only the single word “over”, or rarely, “over, please”.

        • Me says:

          I want to add my thanks as well. I never heard of “PTO/Please turn over” either.

          I found the puzzle extremely hard, but mostly because I didn’t know the names of any of the car models so had to guess it all from the clues. But it all came together eventually!

      • Don says:

        Is that made up? Who uses PTO in writing? Journalists? Academicians? Is it now the practice to just make stuff up because you need to put something in there. I solved the puzzle by work around, but WTF? I checked Google afterwards and PTO with that meaning doesn’t come up in the first 4 screens. C’mon man.

  8. Jack says:

    Did anyone else immediately key in “KUMAR” instead of “MAUDE” for 6A on the NYT and get stuck because of that for a bit, or was that just me?

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