Sunday, November 22, 2020

LAT 8:19 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:50 (Amy) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:03 (Jim P) 


Alex Eaton-Salners’s New York Times crossword, “It All Adds Up”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 11 22 20, “It All Adds Up”

I like the theme. It’s sort of a riff on a rebus theme, where a spelled-out number appears within crossing answers (in circled/shaded squares), but instead of a single square containing, say, TEN, the crossing entries contain spelled-out numbers that, when added together, make the number needed for these themers to make sense. The added-together numbers are just letter strings within the themers.

  • 23a. [Bygone office group], SONEOPOOL / 3d. [Made the rounds?], NINEDEDBAR. ONE + NINE = TEN, so we get STENO POOL and TENDED BAR.
  • 25a. [Final remark in an argument], THELASONERD / 15d. [Doctor’s reassurance before a shot], IONENTHURT. ONE + ONE = TWO, THE LAST WORD and IT WON’T HURT. When the hell does a doctor say “it won’t hurt” about an injection? How often are doctors even giving shots? Usually it’s nurses or pharmacists. When I have doctors administering shots, it’s local anesthetic, or cortisone going into a joint, and it hurts like a mofo. Does the editorial team not get medical care? “You’ll feel a little pinch” is what health care providers actually say. They don’t lie.
  • 66a. [Long-running show whose iconic hourglass is in the Smithsonian collection], DAYSOTWOLIVES / 35d. [1943 Pulitzer-winning Thornton Wilder play, with “The”], SKINOTWOTEETH. (Ah, the dreaded with ‘The’.) TWO + TWO = FOUR. DAYS OF OUR LIVES, SKIN OF OUR TEETH.
  • 113a. [Union Pacific vehicle], FRFOURTRAIN / 72d. [Qualifies to fight in a certain class], MAKESWFOUR. FOUR + FOUR = EIGHT. FREIGHT TRAIN, MAKES WEIGHT. I’m not sure the word vehicle encompasses a train made of multiple train cars.
  • 116a. [Neither gains nor loses], BREAKZERO / 77d. [Journalists might be invited to it], PRESSEVENT. ZERO + SEVEN = SEVEN. Not sure I like this variation, where PRESS EVENT is exactly the same either way. Fun twist or inelegant?

Never heard of 41a. [Sheltered balcony with abundant natural light], SUN-TRAP. Here’s a definition.

Fave clue: 97a. [Zoning, so to speak], OUT OF IT. This isn’t about real estate zoning at all, but “zoning out.”

Fave fill includes “GOOD GAME,” and that’s all I’ve got time for because my son just got back from picking up our Wrigley BBQ dinner.

Four stars from me.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Dark Secrets” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Another — ANOTHER — absolute feat of construction today.

*If you missed yesterday’s comment from Evan on this site, he offered a warning that today’s puzzle would best be solved on paper* 

THEME: Words that follow the word “black” are hidden in seven different sets of black squares throughout the puzzle.

Washington Post, November 22, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “Dark Secrets” solution grid


  • CAT
  • LAB
  • OPS
  • ART
  • KEY
  • EYE

*The solution grid that appears here is the one offered through WaPo’s applet.

The added Birnholzian layers are all in place. They include:

  1. The spelling of a secret, apt word, in this case CLOAKED. As in, all of the hidden answers are CLOAKED. Also, I could’ve sworn the word was COLAKED. Visually it was hard for me to realize that OPS was below LAB. 
  2. All words whose endings/beginnings/both are “cut short” due to the theme are still valid entries in the white squares. Like OMEGA appears to be MEG. PAGER appears to be AGE. This is repeated how many times over?? WOW.
  3. Consistency. The hidden words occur in horizontal black “bars” made up of three or more squares. Any thing else added or subtracted from those bars is off the table.
  4. Mostly clean/interesting fill all around.

I really don’t like solving on paper because it forces me to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably well overdue for purchasing me a good ol’ pair of reading glasses. So my time is well below what it would be, but whenever I get the heads-up that the WaPo needs to be solved on paper, I confess I get excited. I know I’m in for something clever.

Unfortunately, that heads up is also  kinda- sorta a spoiler, because I’m on the lookout for a trick, but I suppose it’s unavoidable in the digital age. That being said, I did uncover the gimmick quite early on with MACH[O], ON TO[P] and SPOT[S]. I saw Black OPS and knew where we were going.

What I wasn’t expecting was for OPS to be part of the entries below as well… and then for those entries to also include a hidden themer as part of their ends. Mind blown.

There were also several instances where I forgot to include the black squares, which explains why it took forever for me to get the SE corner.

Lots of fun clues in this one too:

  • [Non-pluses?] crossing [Pluses] for MINUSES / ASSETS. 
  • The noted irony that DENNYS is a [Fit Fare diner chain].
  • 87A [G/U/A/C holder] RNA. 
  • 124A [Extension granted to students?] EDU. 

Definitely a bit more bite, which is fine with this type of puzzle. Evan varies up the difficulty level and the theme concepts appropriately enough to reach all types of solvers.

ISIDROLANOLIN, BORNEAN,  and LOCUST TREE were all either new or difficult for me, but appropriately clued and fairly crossed.

This whole thing is just very well executed and stands strong under meticulous construction.

Thanks as always, Evan!



Joe Grzybowski’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Ch-ch-ch-changes” — Jenni’s write-up

I figured out what was going on with the first theme answer. It was a reasonably fun theme. We didn’t have Joe in our database. Is this a debut? If so, nice job!

Each theme answer is a base phrase with a CH added. Wackiness results.

Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2020, Joe Gryzbowski, “Ch-ch-ch-changes,” solution grid

  • 23a [Headline announcing Thomas Kingsford’s 1842 process?] is A STARCH IS BORN. Do I need to tell you that the base phrase is “A Star is Born?” Didn’t think so. I confused myself by reading “process” as “progress.” It also helps if you recognize the name of Kingsford Cornstarch, which I do, for some reason. If you were expecting charcoal, you were out of luck.
  • 37a [Breakfast product made from trees?] is ALLBRANCH CEREAL.
  • 49a [Place for the good guys?] is a MENSCH ROOM.
  • 66a [Mad Hatter’s cup?] is CHALICE IN WONDERLAND. This may be my favorite.
  • 79a [Apex predator at the feeder?] is SHARK FINCH.
  • 88a [Literary slugger making cookies?] is CASEY AT THE BATCH. This may be my least favorite because AT THE BATCH is not something anyone says abut cookie-baking. I know, I know, wackiness. But still.
  • 109a [What keeps the church singers healthy?] is CHORAL HYGIENE. I miss singing. Oh, do I miss singing. Damn pandemic.

Overall, it’s a good Sunday theme. All the base phrases are solid and the theme answers work almost perfectly.

A few other things:

  • For the life of me, I can’t remember how to spell KRONOR. Don’t know what my issue is.
  • This is the second puzzle in a week that has MENNEN as an answer. I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about that brand. Now I’m waiting for the third.
  • Obscure scientific term of the day: ECOTONE, clued as [Transition area beteween plant communities]. Once I saw it, I remembered it, but if you’d asked me to define it I would not have been able to.
  • HALTERS do not necessarily bare arms and midriffs. They always bare the arms, but it’s possible  – even common – to have a halter top that comes down to the waist or below. Dudes. Do your homework.
  • The CLIC-Stic gives me a chance to link to this again, which is always worth a laugh. Not the same pen, but the same company.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Soong MEI-ling was Madame Chiang. I also did not know (or at least did not remember) that Kim DAE-jung won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. My US-centricism is showing. And my NE US bias: I did not know that HARDEES started in Rocky Mount, NC.

MaryEllen Uthlaut’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Multitasking”—Jim P’s review

I’m not exactly sure how to explain this theme. Each theme entry is a common verbal phrase that includes a body part, or the use of a body part. Its clue is another body-part verbal phrase that aims to stand in antithesis of the entry phrase. Make sense? I thought not.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Multitasking” · MaryEllen Uthlaut · 11.22.20

  • 23a. [If you drag your feet, can you ___?] KICK UP YOUR HEELS. For my money, this is the best of the lot. Both are phrases that involve the feet, and if you were to literally try to do them both at the same time, you’d fail. Answer: No.
  • 33a. [If you look down your nose at someone, can you ___?] KEEP YOUR CHIN UP. If you were to look down your nose at someone, your chin would indeed tend to go up. Answer: Yes.
  • 60a. [If your fingers are crossed, can you ___?] PULL SOMEONE’S LEG. This one is the least clear. In one you have fingers, in the other a leg, so there’s not as strong of a correlation between the two phrases. Can you literally cross your fingers then pull someone’s leg? Answer: Yes.
  • 85a. [If your hands are tied, can you ___?] LET YOUR HAIR DOWN. Again, not a strong correlation between hands and hair. In fact, I’d rather see this clue with the previous answer; that would make more sense to me. Answer to the question? Depends on how your hands are tied and how long your hair is.
  • 109a. [If your teeth are set on edge, can you ___?] CHEW SOMEONE OUT. Not bad since both have to do with teeth, but unlike all the previous entries, no body part is specifically mentioned. Answer: No idea since I don’t know what it means to literally set one’s teeth on edge.
  • 122a. [If you’re hopping mad, can you ___?] STAND YOUR GROUND. I like this one, too, because it has great imagery. Answer: No way.

A very playful theme, and that counts for a lot in my book. 21x puzzles can be slogs, but when your theme is fun and lively, that helps a lot. That said, I was a little thrown by all the duplication of “you”s and “your”s in the clues and entries. I don’t know that that would be allowed in most publications, but this theme would be impossible to do without resorting to repeating those words, so it’s just one of those things, I guess.

The fill is solid but I’m surprised there isn’t anything especially sparkly. VIS-À-VIS, SMUSHES and GO KART are the most colorful; the rest of the long entries are single words like APTITUDE, ELEMENTS, TASSLES, TELECOM, SUPERSEDE. I do like the word CLOTURE; that’s just fun to say.

Clues of note:

  • 130a. [Cartooning and crossword construction]. ARTS. Agreed!
  • 8d. [Rogaine alternative?]. TOUPEE. I’m not certain this needs a question mark since there isn’t a play on words here. What say you?

I liked this offbeat but lively theme. 3.8 stars.

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22 Responses to Sunday, November 22, 2020

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I liked it too. It’s a nice change of pace, a little mental gymnastics. That ZERO was tricky. Luckily I know my fashion, so ZAC was gimme.
    With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve been trying to think of pandemic-specific objects of my gratitude. I mean of course there are the frontline healthcare workers, and the amazing science that’s yielding a vaccine in record time. There’s also the internet and and all the apps that make this socially distanced life bearable… But the oldest, humblest, remarkably effective helper so far…
    Soap! I wonder how many lives it has saved.
    I’m thankful for soap.

  2. pseudonym says:

    Brilliant NYT

  3. AV says:

    Liked the Sunday NYT, especially the SW zero+seven twist! But did not appreciate that OFOUR was crossing in the middle …

  4. Martin says:

    As Evan posted in yesterday’s discussion, the WaPo this week includes elements that Across Lite can’t handle. He recommends solving on paper using the pdf at

    That said, if you want a significantly more challenging solve, you might even prefer the Across Lite version. I’ve compared it to solving a puzzle with the across clues only. It’s not quite that challenging, but does offer some additional aha moments.

    Or you can do what the constructor wants you to do.

    PS. If you do try it the AL way, beware of the Notepad. It contains spoilers.

  5. JohnH says:

    Like the other comments but unlike the ratings, I loved the NYT, too. The theme took me forever, and I admired it for that extra long step in solving. The construction also looked harder to pull off in retrospect. At first the ZERO bothered me because it meant that, in just this one case, one theme entry read unchanged. But then its cleverness sank in, as did the sheer fact that, after all, ZERO is a real entity. (I didn’t know ZAC, but crossings did the trick.)

    I did wonder at GPS. I thought a dash was something where you can’t exactly stop to look at GPS or anything else. It’s proverbially mad, no?

  6. I am still grappling with the transition of crossword puzzle clues from synonyms to puns. The addition of mathematical and graphic elements, like those in the Sunday, November 22, 2020 NYT puzzle, made for extended groans. “Stenopool” was the giveaway today for me, but it was far from downhill from there. More normalcy in the puzzles please!

    On the other hand, I know Natick quite well. I’ve been there often, and I know all the initials of the Wyeths. You can pack the puzzles with Natick — “Boston suburb estd. in 1651” — if you like.

  7. David L says:

    Maybe I’m an outlier, but I didn’t care that much for the NYT puzzle — the theme itself was fine (except for OFOUR being repeated in the central theme answers) but some of the fill and cluing struck me as awkward, if not wrong. No-one describes clothes as PREMADE – it would be ‘off the rack’ for me. Plus there is PRESETS elsewhere in the puzzle. AGILE doesn’t mean ‘fleet of foot’ and ESTEEM for ‘favor’ is a stretch, at best. I don’t buy that CAPO is a ‘Don’s partner’ — aren’t Don and Capo the English and Italian words for the same person? IDBET doesn’t seem like standalone phrase to me. LARA LOGAN was a longtime CBS correspondent, but is now with Fox, having transformed at some point into a right-wing loon.

    Puzzles from Mr Eaton-Salners often have this effect on me–the cluing strives too hard to be clever and cutesy, but frequently goes too far.

  8. David Steere says:

    WaPo: Jim Q, thanks for the nice, thorough review of Evan’s amazing puzzle today. So many levels that work so smoothly together. Five stars. Jim Q, go buy yourself some reading glasses. Perhaps your vision will become less “cloaked.” ;-)

  9. Thanks, all. I had a lot of fun writing today’s puzzle.

    I think solving in the online version on the Post’s website was probably the easiest option. That way there’d be no doubt that you’d see the hidden theme clues if you moved onto one of the trick black squares. It’s much easier to miss them on paper since we’re usually trained to see a clue number in the grid and then hunt for its clue in the clue list, rather than the other way around. Then again, the online option meant you could find those trick squares by accident really early on just by navigating across one of them, whereas I think the a-ha would have been delayed longer on paper like I had hoped. It was a tough balance to figure out for these two formats.

    • Jack S says:

      I had a lot of fun with this puzzle. I solve on paper and hadn’t read the note, so I didn’t know anything about what was coming. I discovered the hidden words fairly early on when I noticed that 36 in the grid was followed by 38, with no sign of 37! That sent me on a search for other missing numbers. I’m a little slow to figure things out sometimes and it took a bit longer for me to realize that the hidden letters were also used in the downs above them. And even longer to realize that they were part of the downs below, too.

      The layout was clever enough that I made my wife and daughter listen while I described the way the puzzle was built—a sign of the best EvanB puzzles!

    • John Malcolm says:

      Brilliant construction! Now if only I had a white pencil…

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