Sunday, November 29, 2020

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 8:01 (Amy) 


WaPo 15:19 (Jim Q) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Crossword contest announcement! The game website Arkadium has put together a “12 Days of Crossword” contest, featuring a dozen holiday-themed puzzles by Newsday crossword editor, Stanley Newman. The Arkadium site will release one puzzle a day from Monday, November 30 through Friday, December 11. Solve all the puzzles and submit a final contest answer to be entered into a random drawing for a chance to win $3,000.

Eric Berlin’s New York Times crossword, “Six-Pack”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 11 29 20, “Six-Pack”

The theme is “before and after”-style portmanteaux that overlap by 6 letters, and there are 6 themers (ergo the title):

  • 23a. [Very short-lived gemstones?], EPHEMERALDS. Ephemeral, emeralds.
  • 34a. [TV quiz program about an epic poem?], GILGAMESHOW.
  • 93a. [Magnificent plan of action?], FIRSTRATEGY. Like 34a’s blend of Gilgamesh and game show, this one mixes a phrase and a word, first-rate and strategy. Now, if you don’t know the epic poem and you don’t know that GELID means [Very cold], this spot may have vexed you.
  • 107a. [Dance celebrating 2010 legislation?], OBAMACARENA. ObamaCare, macarena.
  • 3d. [Emergency situation caused by a terrier?], AIREDALERT. Another phrase, with Airedale and red alert.
  • 11d. [Salon job named after a comic book hero?], SUPERMANENT. Superman, permanent.
  • 63d. [Pounding on a pie topping?], HAMMERINGUE. Hammering, meringue. That reminds me—I haven’t watched this week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off.
  • 74d. [Entertainment host Ryan, that smart aleck!?], WISEACREST. Wiseacre, Seacrest.

The theme is all right, a neat little bit of wordplay but not high on the amusement scale. The four Across themers and four Downs intersect in pairs, which adds to the construction difficulty but not to the solver’s entertainment level. I did find myself wincing at some of the fill, starting with the opening corner’s NACRES/-ENES crossing and popping up here and there in the rest of the puzzle (MAES, PREV, IN E, I-BAR, DYS-, -ETTE, DECI-, -ITE …). Basically, if you put bad fill in 1-Across’s corner, I (and, I suspect, many other solvers) will be primed to notice every other piece of crusty fill in the rest of the puzzle. ICE MELT and ICIER‘s overlap also jumped out.

Bright spots in the grid include BILL NYE, PLUS ONE, VIS-A-VIS, and CUE BALL.

Five clues:

  • 1a. [Its logo has a blue, red, orange, yellow and green “M”], GMAIL. Huh, what do you know? The “V” shape in the middle of the M is orange, not red. Had not noticed before.
  • 19a. [You can scratch with it], CUE BALL. Do not try to scratch an itch with it. And do not try to scratch in pool, sinking the cue ball, as that is no way to win.
  • 89a. [Brand of cologne with a literary name], ARAMIS. Nice clue angle.
  • 1d. [Plot lines?], GRAPH. The verb, not the noun. Nice.
  • 41d. [Part of a glass … or glasses], RIM. Great clue.

Three stars from me. Over and out. Enjoy your weekend!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “I Didn’t Hear That” – Jim Q’s Write-up

THEME: Phrases that substitute one word with a homophone of sorts (one silent letter is added).

Washington Post, November 29, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “I Didn’t Hear That” solution grid


  • 23A [Northern locale ruled by bearded folklore beings?] GNOME, ALASKA. 
  • 39A [Offspring from the deified composer Frank?] CHILDREN OF A LOESSER GOD. Love this answer.
  • 62A [Statement about a place where two people share something equally?] THERE YOU HALVE IT. Without fully reading the clue, I thought the answer was going to be THERE YOU HAVE ITT, which induced a premature eye-roll.
  • 77A [Change the world a little bit at a time?] ADJUST SOCIETY. 
  • 94A [Party in Portland, e.g.?] MAINE EVENT. 
  • 97A [“You mean the 31st U.S. president? Blast!”?] HOOVER? DAMN!
  • 112A [Proverb espousing the virtue of staying quiet, and a hint to a word spelled out by six letters in this puzzle] SILENCE IS GOLDEN

I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting the letters to spell out something – I should know better by now. So the revealer was quite the pleasant surprise. One of those things that puts it a notch above the more “typical” crossword theme-type that we have today.

This one was packed with enjoyment, and is one of those where everybody can say “Ahh!” after a couple mind-benders. Easy, yet all the staples are there: New names, fun clues, and a clever reveal.

New names for me were:

SAM Neill, OPIE Winston (despite having seen Sons of Anarchy), ERMA Franklin (crosswordy Bombeck was thereto lend a hand), AARON Swartz, SADA Thompson, Jim KERR, Brian ORTEGA, and ANNA Burns. All fairly crossed or inferable, and interesting additions to the puzzle.

Fun clues:

Well… c’mon… if this doesn’t have you curious: [Global ___ Vault (doomsday vault built in Norway to protect Nabisco cookies from an asteroid … yes, it’s true)] OREO. Let’s google that…

Oh wow. It’s real and it’s recent. I mean, more of a marketing stunt than anything, but check this out:

There’s also an explanation of why I can never find anything at Costco at 116A. [Retailer whose system of moving stock around its stores is known as a “treasure hunt” strategy]. There you have it. A time wasting treasure hunt that ends up costing you a small fortune because… the scheme works!

Enjoy Sunday!

Kevin Salat’s Universal crossword, “Illusion-ist” — Jim Q’s write-up

The key to the theme is in the title.

THEME: Common phrases/names that add IST to create wacky entries.

Universal crossword solution · “Illusion-ist” · Kevin Salat ·  Sun., 11.29.20


  • 17A [With 26-Across, anguished mixologist’s feeling?] COCKTAIL DISTRESS. Cocktail dress. 
  • 37A [Length a golf club travels?] SWING DISTANCE. Swing dance. 
  • 48A [With 59-Across, “Nabokov, pay attention!”] VLADMIR! LISTEN IN! Vladmir Lenin. 

It’s not my favorite thing in the world when a theme answer is split across multiple entries. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the theme or the resulting entries exciting enough to enjoy the search for the other half of two-thirds of the themers.

Grid felt pretty standard, though I tripped up often. IODIDE looks funny to me. I want it to be IODIZE or IODINE or something. AL PASTOR is completely new to me as well, but I never met a taco option I didn’t like.

My favorite mistake was at 4D [Nix, more formally]. VOTE DOWN. I read it as VOTED O??, and went with VOTED OUT, completely missing the lack of past tense in the clue. When I got the correct letters from the crosses, I read it as VOTED OWN, and assumed it was a (very formal!) phrase I hadn’t heard.

2.5 stars from me. Have a good day!

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “False Negative”—Jim P’s review

Theme: NOs are added to common phrases.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “False Negative” · Zhouqin Burnikel · 11.29.20

  • 21a. [Body of rules regarding beefsteaks?] TOMATO CANON. Tomato can.
  • 23a. [Influx of vagabonds?] NOMAD RUSH. Mad rush.
  • 36a. [Inexperienced four-star naval officer?] NOVICE ADMIRAL. Vice Admiral.
  • 59a. [Biography of a feudal butler?] LIFE ON MANORS. Life on Mars.
  • 83a. [Famous House leader?] NOTED SPEAKER. TED speaker.
  • 106a. [Question to a relocated Alaskan?] DO YOU MISS NOME? “Do you miss me?”
  • 121a. [Photo event for Amazon’s tablet?] NOOK SHOOT . “Ok, shoot!”
  • 123a. [Polite request to read “The Highwayman”?] NOYES, PLEASE. “Yes, please.” This one brought a smile to my face. Adding NO to YES gives you English writer Alfred Noyes. Even though I barely recognize the name and wouldn’t have guessed what he wrote, I recognized it enough to help with this answer. Nice one.

Fairly standard add-a-word theme, but expertly handled. I like the variety of ways in which NO is added.

COMFY is such a nice way to start off a grid, don’t you think? It certainly sets the tone, because Zhouqin is so good at stuffing a grid with nice fill, that doing one of her puzzles is downright COMFY. Look at all these goodies: FLAG PINS, “FOR SHAME!,” POURED IT ON, SEA BIRDS, A LA MODE, SLOE GIN, “LIKE SO,” SMILEYS (I went with SMILIES first), “I’LL LIVE,” STORM PROOF, SAVED PAR, AUNTIE EM, PLATEFUL, and the emphatic statement “AM I BEAT!” That’s a lot to like.

Only a few eyebrow-raising moments: SCUBAS as a verb. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it without “diving” in there. I didn’t know the name DUA [“Don’t Start Now” singer Lipa], but as she’s a Grammy winner, I’d best learn it. (Interesting, her name re-parses to Dual IPA.)

Clues of note:

  • 13a. [Zoomed]. SPED. A simple clue, but such a nice touch after the rise of Zoom as a communications medium.
  • 26a. [Treat that helps you focus short-term]. GUM. I hadn’t heard this, but I guess it makes sense. Maybe I need to chew some while solving.

Very nice puzzle all around. 3.8 stars.

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “History Lesson” — Jenni’s write-up

C.C. has a double today – she also has the Sunday-sized Universal. I had no idea what was going on with this theme until I got to the revealer. No, that’s not entirely true – I had an idea early on and discarded it with nothing to replace it. The revealer is down in the SE at 125a, where all good revealers should be. [Field including history, and a hint to the ends of the answers to the starred clues].

The starred clues in my order of solving to explain my first idea:

Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2020, C.C. Burnikel, “History Lesson,” solution grid

  • 22a [*Cuddly toy] is a STUFFED ANIMAL (social animal) was the first one I got.
  • 37a [*Layered lunch] is a TURKEY CLUB (social club) so I thought we were looking at recent history, as in Thanksgiving – stuffed, turkey, you can see where I was going.
  • Then I got to 15d [*Jackson or Lincoln], which is STATE CAPITAL (social capital), and had to toss my idea out the window.
  • 60a [*Braves outfielder who was the 1990 N.L. Rookie of the Year] is DAVID JUSTICE (social justice).
  • 63d [*”We’ll need a better solution”] is THAT WONT WORK (social work). Social workers, man. They are THE BEST. I’ve been lucky enough to have social workers on my team for the past 13 years and I hoped I never have to go back. They support our patients, their families, and the rest of the team. They help people navigate the Byzantine American medical system, provide counseling, and help all of us do a better job. They are underappreciated, misunderstood, often feared, and woefully underpaid.
  • 83a [*Webmaster’s concern] is DATA SECURITY (Social Security).
  • 106a [*Cuts a school period] is SKIPS CLASS (social class).

This is a very nice example of a type of theme I generally don’t care for. It adds nothing to the solving experience and doesn’t provide the kind of wordplay I enjoy on a Sunday. That’s entirely a matter of personal taste, and I can appreciate the skill that went in to crafting such a solid, accessible, consistent theme. I was glad to see social CAPITAL and social CLASS show up; both are important concepts that are not discussed frequently enough in US (social) culture.

A few other things:

  • Is it still a thing to say NOT at the end of a sentence to indicate a joke? It feels very creaky to me.
  • 51a [Attend to a boxer, maybe] is about dogs, not pugilists. It’s PET SIT. So when I saw 92a, [Where kitties get pampered] and realized it ended in an A, I filled in PET SPA and inwardly fumed about the dupe. Nope. It’s CAT SPA which I’d never heard of before. Then again, I have never cohabitated with a cat – well, not since 1982, and it wasn’t my cat.
  • Speaking of cats, [Litter box emanations] at 57a continues the trend of cluing ODORS as unpleasant sensations. AROMA usually gets the nod of olfactory approval.
  • I know MILANO is a city in Italy but to me it will always be a cookie. Mmm. Now I want chocolate.
  • I’m very glad no one has ever called me POOPSIE as a pet name. I would not like it.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’d never heard of “Ex on the Beach,” apparently a show on MTV that puts former reality show contestants together with their exes to live on the beach and films the results. I thought today’s “Fox Trot” was a parody. Apparently not.

you know someone has this in development as we speak

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9 Responses to Sunday, November 29, 2020

  1. Pamela Kelly says:

    NYT: I am counting 8 themers, not 6. I think the title has only to do with the overlap.

  2. JohnH says:

    I ran into some mean fill in the NYT, and TYLER / REY for me was just a guess, but I admired and enjoyed the theme quite a bit once I got it.

  3. armagh says:

    NYT: 25A is reason number 506 why crossword constructors should stay the hell away from sports references. Pepe has started 2 of 9 games since being dealt to Arsenal, is known for being unable to deal with a moving ball is is currently sitting out a three-game ban for head butting an opponent. EPL standout my ass.

  4. PJ says:

    LAT – Another dose of silk from Z. OMAR Little always puts me in a good mood. Theme answers dominated the long entries but there’s plenty of good sixers.

    Question for anyone who cares about these things. 21a – I don’t think of a pitstop as a place. I consider it an activity. To me cars “retire” in the pit.

  5. RM Camp says:

    I only knew GELID because it was either a recent clue or I encountered it when I did some archived puzzles when we had a power outage a couple of weeks ago. As for the crossing, for some reason I had partially filled it with LATE SHOW. Iunno, my headspace has not been well kept for a while now and I’m on new meds, sue me. Overall, good puzzle, finished right in the middle between my skewed average and my personal best (which I think would be closer to my true average), with no frustration.

  6. Amy L says:

    NYT: For my first theme answer at 107A, I filled in ACAMACARENA, for “Affordable Care Act Macarena.” When I realized it didn’t fit the pattern, I was disappointed. I think Acamacarema would be a fun dance.

  7. boardoe says:

    Did anyone notice the error in the Universal Sunday puzzle? 121A’s clue “Photo event for Amazon’s tablet” has the answer “Nook shoot”. The NOOK is the e-reader from Barnes & Noble. Amazon’s e-reader is the Kindle.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      Dang! How did I miss that? Surprising that an error like that slipped past both Burnikel and Steinberg. (Not surprising that it slipped past me.)

  8. David Steere says:

    WaPo: another wonderful puzzle from Evan and the highlight of my day. The Times was very un-entertaining (i.e., no payoff) and had way too much weak fill. CC’s LAT was fine if a little underwhelming. Jenni’s comment that this puzzle type is not her favorite made me think of how often the USA Today puzzle uses this kind of construction but with better success in a daily sized grid. Speaking of USA Today, Zhouqun’s puzzle there was terrific but her Universal Sunday was very, very dull. Perhaps, ZB’s talents shine most brightly in a daily sized puzzle.

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