Sunday, December 27, 2020

LAT 10:18 (GRAB) 


NYT 7:45 (Amy) 


WaPo Four cups of egg nog and two shots of rum (Jim Q) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Daniel Grinberg’s New York Times crossword, “Partnerships”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 27 20, “Partnerships”

About to leave to pick up my Lou Malnati’s pizza (sorry, Matt, but I know your brother sent you some so I think I’m off the hook), so super-quickly: Theme is X & Y phrases, clued via familiar “partners” phrases:

  • 23a. [Law partners], JUDGE AND JURY
  • 39a. [Silent partners], PEACE AND QUIET
  • 45a. [Writing partners], PEN AND PAPER
  • 64a. [Partners in crime], BREAKING AND ENTERING
  • 82a. [Business partners], BOOM AND BUST
  • 89a. [Romantic partners], HUGS AND KISSES
  • 110a. [Domestic partners], ROOM AND BOARD

Solid theme, though not one with any inherent “aha!” or “ha!” moments.

Did not care for the fill. The constructor’s on the newer side and his standards for fill will surely rise. (The editors’ standards are apparently static.) There were some nice bits like BUTT-DIAL, BEER PONG, and HUMBUG, but also too much in the way of MAJS ABOIL DEFIER OGEES, etc.

3 stars from me. Go listen to some Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Dolly Parton, or the Who, and then enjoy the PEACE AND QUIET afterwards.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “5×5” – Jim Q’s Write-up

***The meta for this puzzle is time consuming, but well worth the elbow grease! In other words, if you’ve given up on it, I would definitely encourage another look-see before reading on***

THEME: Notable quintets… with a meta.

Washington Post, December 27, 2020, Evan Birnholz, “5×5” solution grid

THEME ANSWERS: (color coded for ensuing meta explanation)


Seems a little light on theme, right? That’s what I thought for a hot second, anyway. And although I should know better by now, part of me couldn’t help but think this was gonna be a piece of cake meta, despite the curiously over-sized grid, the lack of apparent density in the theme, and the fact that it’s a Birnholz puzzle.

In the print version, a little 5×5 empty grid, ala NY Times Mini Puzzle,  accompanies the main puzzle. This little bugger seems innocuous, and I very wrongly assumed I would have it filled in no time. Wrong. But the many AHA moments that eventually led to its completion were well worth the effort. I’ll do my best to explain, but suffice it to say, while it’s not the most complicated meta, it is complex.

STEP #1: Determine what each notable quintet consists of. 

This part is easy!


    • Huron
    • Ontario
    • Michigan
    • Erie
    • Superior


    • Touch
    • Taste
    • Hearing
    • Sight
    • Smell


    • Thumb
    • Index
    • Middle
    • Ring
    • Pinkie


    • Atlantic
    • Pacific
    • Arctic
    • Indian
    • Southern


  • Ginger
  • Sporty
  • Baby
  • Posh
  • Scary

Step #2: Determine what needs (or what doesn’t need) to go in the mini 5×5 grid

Easy, right? I mean, the theme clues flat out say that the lakes go in Row A, the senses in Row B, etc. And a nudge clue in the puzzle specifically tells us to look at first letters.

Well, the order of the lakes is famously HOMES, but what of the others? Is there a Spice Girl order? What about the oceans? Is there a mnemonic acronym for them that I failed to learn in fourth grade?

So this is where the first AHA really comes in.

Step #3: Read the clues. Many times. All of them. While searching for key words.

In my Spice Girl googling (yeah, I had to look them up. For shame!), Posh stood out to me. She stood out because I had just finished solving the puzzle and I distinctly remembered reading the word “Posh” in one of the clues. It’s one of those words you don’t see all that often. Sure enough, 116A the clue is [Posh ride to a film premiere]. I wonder if other Spice Girls are hidden in other clues? Yup. And once you turn the key on this piece of the puzzle, there’s no going back. I had noticed some of the weirdness in the wording of the clues along the way, but I chalked that up to Evan’s unique cluing style (though in retrospect I shoulda sniffed it out ahead of time… glad I didn’t though).

This is very time consuming (for me anyway) as I had to comb through each of the clues for each component of the quintets. I discovered how short my attention span truly is as I could only search for a couple at a time. They were buried quite well. But it was worth it. I liken it to Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he’s decoding the Ovaltine advertisement in the bathroom. I got more and more excited the closer I got. Anyway, here they are:


    • Huron 23A [___ Arbor (city on the Huron River)] 
    • Ontario 58D [Ontario-born Shania]
    • Michigan 17D [She campaigned in Michigan on Nov. 3, 2020]
    • Erie 46D [“Erie News ___” (Pennsylvania news program)]
    • Superior 14A [Superior of a co.] 


    • Touch 96D [Like a laptop when you don’t touch it for a while]
    • Taste 39A [Taste toast, say] 
    • Hearing 24A [Hearing aid?] 
    • Sight 131A [“… ___ he drove out of sight” (holiday poem line)]
    • Smell 43A [Begin to smell bad, say] 


    • Thumb 26D [Thumb (through)] 
    • Index 107A [Greek symbol for the index of refraction, in physics] 
    • Middle 8D [Middle Ages lands] 
    • Ring  91A [Bride’s words before putting on a ring, perhaps] 
    • Pinkie 147D [Pinkie Pie, to Marble Pie, on “My Little Pony]


    • Atlantic 85D [Wharton once published in the Atlantic Monthly] 
    • Pacific 132A [Pacific salmon] 
    •  Arctic 133A [Arctic birds] 
    • Indian 5D [Chicken korma of Indian cuisine, e.g.] 
    • Southern 83D [Southern Methodist University graduate Bush] 


  • Ginger 155A [Ginger ale, e.g.] 
  • Sporty 13D [Sporty Toyota model] 
  • Baby 82D [Baby who hoots] 
  • Posh 116A [Posh ride to a film premiere] 
  • Scary 149A [Scary street in film] 

Step #4: Examine the answers to the clues of note.

The next AHA comes into play realizing it’s the corresponding first letters of the grid entries that need to be entered in the 5×5 grid. So they are…. (I’ve included a grid for the visual as well, courtesy of Evan)


    • Huron 23A [___ Arbor (city on the Huron River)] ANN
    • Ontario 58D [Ontario-born Shania] TWAIN
    • Michigan 17D [She campaigned in Michigan on Nov. 3, 2020] HARRIS
    • Erie 46D [“Erie News ___” (Pennsylvania news program)] NOW
    • Superior 14A [Superior of a co.] CEO


    • Touch 96D [Like a laptop when you don’t touch it for a while] IDLE
    • Taste 39A [Taste toast, say] EAT
    • Hearing 24A [Hearing aid?] AMP
    • Sight 131A [“… ___ he drove out of sight” (holiday poem line)] ERE
    • Smell 43A [Begin to smell bad, say] ROT


    • Thumb 26D [Thumb (through)] LEAF
    • Index 107A [Greek symbol for the index of refraction, in physics] ETA
    • Middle 8D [Middle Ages lands] FIEFS
    • Ring  91A [Bride’s words before putting on a ring, perhaps] I DO
    • Pinkie 147D [Pinkie Pie, to Marble Pie, on “My Little Pony] SIS


    • Atlantic 85D [Wharton once published in the Atlantic Monthly] EDITH
    • Pacific 132A [Pacific salmon] COHO
    •  Arctic 133A [Arctic birds] TERNS
    • Indian 5D [Chicken korma of Indian cuisine, e.g.] ENTREE
    • Southern 83D [Southern Methodist University graduate Bush] LAURA


  • Ginger 155A [Ginger ale, e.g.] SODA
  • Sporty 13D [Sporty Toyota model] SOLARA
  • Baby 82D [Baby who hoots] OWLET
  • Posh 116A [Posh ride to a film premiere] LIMO
  • Scary 149A [Scary street in film] ELM

Step #5: Look at first letters of those answers.

So now what? Well, clearly those are the letters that go in the grid, but in what order? They’re only five letters each, and here is what my brain initially anagrammed:


SENSES: I E A E R = ?? No clue.




Step #6: Figure out how those letters fit in the 5×5 grid

Turns out I was correct on only one of these, so it was still difficult to fill the 5×5 grid with any satisfaction. But I knew Evan wouldn’t leave anything to random chance, so I reexamined the first letters of each of those entries as they appeared in grid order. Another AHA.

The real words are: CHANT, AERIE, FLIES, ELECT, SOLES

Next (Yes! There’s a “next”!) we are directed to look at the columns in the correct 5×5 grid and treat them as if they’re clues based on the hints in the grid at 81/93 Across.

The columns read CAFES, HELLO, ARIEL, NIECE, TESTS. 

Step #7: Determine what to do with the resulting words that appear in the columns of the 5×5.

AHA! There are clues in the big grid that work for these!

CAFES =  10D [Casual dining spots] BISTROS

HELLO = 18D [What one may say upon walking through the door]  I’M HOME!

ARIEL =  51A [Animated underwater Disney character] NEMO

NIECE = 114D [She’s part of the extended family] GRANDMA

TESTS = 157A [Some academic hurdles] ORALS

Step #8: Look at first letters again

So? What’s the answer???? All you have to do is look at the first letter of each of the initial answers for those clues and you’ll get BINGO! soon enough.

Step #9: Do a shot of Meyers rum and go to bed. 

This is beyond brilliant. It is definitely my favorite of the year. And probably in my top ten of all time list.

Exhausting? Yes. Even explaining it is exhausting. But wow.

For those who don’t like solving metas, please remember that it stands alone as just fine (if a touch drab) on its own. But I really hope this one gets the accolades it deserves.

I have more to say, but I’m spent.

Enjoy Sunday!

P.S. Evan sent along this note with the puzzle that’s a bit of a Easter Egg:

This is the puzzle that I wanted to run on my 5th anniversary of starting at the Post on Dec. 6, but it was impossible for a couple of reasons: 1) I had a work crunch and had to submit two puzzles during the week I was to submit the Dec. 6 puzzle, and 2) I only thought of the idea maybe two days before the first of those two puzzles was due. I thought it was better to wait and get this right instead of rushing and getting it wrong.

Hal Moore’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Reaching Across the Aisle”—Jim P’s review

It’s not so often that we see bi-partisanship come out of Washington D.C., but we’ve got it on display in this puzzle at least. Each theme entry adds a D or R to the already-present D or R in well-known phrases.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Reaching Across the Aisle” · Hal Moore · 12.27.20

  • 24a. [Dull time in Canada?] MAPLE LEAF DRAG. Rag.
  • 30a. [Predicament at basic training?] DRILL PICKLE. Dill.
  • 57a. [Coffee shop order with skim milk?] SKINNY DRIP. Dip.
  • 59a. [Plumber’s service or remuneration?] DRAIN CHECK. Rain.
  • 80a. [Acting bug?] STAGE DRIVE. Dive.
  • 85a. [Knack for tying chess games?] DRAW TALENT. Raw.
  • 106a. [Beer enjoyed while watching the Stanley Cup?] HOCKEY DRINK. Rink.
  • 118a. [Words you use when you’re apprehensive?] DREAD LANGUAGE. Dead.

Four Ds and four Rs. Well balanced. I also like that there are no extraneous Ds or Rs in any of the entries. That constraint probably nullified more than a few good possibilities. Oops, I spoke too soon. There’s an extra D in the last entry. Oh well.

I don’t think I LOLed at any of these, but neither did I scowl. These were solid without being torturous. I liked the first one best.

I don’t usually get too bothered by clue words duping entries, but there are a couple here that were unusually noticeable. “Beer” is in the clue for theme answer 106a and in 74d BEER GARDEN. Likewise, “language” is in theme answer 118a and the clue for 101d TONGUE [Mother ___ (native language)]. I would certainly try to avoid that kind of duping when theme answers are involved.

Top fill: MISSING LINK, SHENANIGANS, the aforementioned BEER GARDEN, MUD ROOM, KAHLUA, and KHAKIS. TWO HEADS feels like a long partial as clued [They’re better than one, it’s said]. Maybe [Features of some giants] might have worked as well? I also like the word RUBRIC, and I want someone to make a punny toy-themed puzzle to include RUBRIC’S CUBE. Get on that!

There are a few bits of crosswordese as usual, like GO A and ILIA, but these are easily glossed over.

Clues of note:

  • 64a. [Company number?]. THREE. It took a second after filling in the crossings to remember the phrase “three’s company.”
  • 100a. [Phone alert, slangily]. NOTIF. New to me. To me, it looks like a boolean phrase NOT IF.
  • 104d. [Second place?]. TENS. I was still thinking about the entry TILL when I filled this in, but now I realize it’s referring to MATH.
  • 108d. [Baby ___ (“The Mandalorian” nickname)]. YODA. *Spoiler* The character’s name is actually Grogu. No doubt it will come up in a future puzzle, and now you’ve been warned.
  • 119d. [SLC church]. LDS. Can’t see this entry without thinking of the scene below.

Solid add-a-letter theme with fun fill. 3.75 stars.

Mike Peluso’s LA Times crossword “Eye Exam”, Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Eye Exam is the title, and eight phrases have an “i-” added to the beginnings of the second word. Sometimes these are in brand names, two of them from Apple; sometimes they make words: icon, ideals; and then there are PA to IPA and BAR to IBAR. The least effective change for me was LOONEYITUNES. Since the word “looney” has no inherent meaning, the pun falls flat.

Prediction: that top-right corner will play quite mean, between SEINER/SANI/NOAA and ELON, which felt like it needed to be some kind of U abbr.

There’s not always a lot that’s easy to recall after a 21x puzzle, but ROCKSTARS clued as [standouts…] felt breezy.


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21 Responses to Sunday, December 27, 2020

  1. Ethan says:

    I don’t have access to the OED online anymore so I can’t say for sure, but doesn’t the clue for 36D have it backwards? I thought that HAP was an archaic word for *fortunate* events. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be a good thing to be hapless?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Here’s the noun listing:


      1 Luck; fortune.
      ‘if you have the good hap to come into their houses’

      1.1 A chance occurrence, especially an event that is considered unlucky.
      ‘I entertained the Company with the many Haps and Disasters’

  2. Martin says:

    Evan’s meta is another nasty one. I wonder if he gets lots of letters. I loved it.

    • Martin says:

      The only thing I’d add to Jim’s solution is that the 5×5 grid is a reasonable stand in for a Bingo card! The columns contain the significant words, as the Bingo card has B, I, N, G and O columns. The rows form words, which are not needed by the meta, because Evan, and because they are a confirmation that you’ve got the “card” filled in correctly. Because there are a couple of reasonable orderings when filling it in, that confirmation was much appreciated. This was a brilliant multiple-aha meta.

  3. huda says:

    NYT: I agree the theme was solid and the fill so-so.
    That meaning of GOOSED is interesting. And SPECIE was new to me.. So, that little area took longer than the rest.

  4. David L says:

    I spent the time solving the WaPo meta, mainly because I was determined not to be defeated by this one the way I was by the last. It was time-consuming and complicated, to be sure. For me, at least, I didn’t find the payoff all that rewarding; more of a sense of relief that I’d got to the end.

    Maybe this is further evidence that metas are not my thing.

    One small nit: When I realized that ARIEL was one of the columns in the small grid, I went to the clue for 133D, ‘Fairy __’, because I was thinking of Shakespeare, not Disney. But by that time it was evident that BINGO was the intended answer, so I searched around a little more.

    Very ingenious construction, certainly, but kind of a slog to solve, IMO.

    On the other hand, the puzzle was a million billion times better than the excruciatingly dreary NYT.

    • Jim Q says:

      Similarly for TESTS I initially gravitated towards BETAS and its clue. I think that stuff is bound to happen no matter how hard he tries to avoid ambiguity.

  5. Hal Moore says:

    Thanks for the review Jim P! You know, I hadn’t even realized that the “D” in the last entry was the only extraneous one. You’re right, that is slightly inelegant – I really liked that answer, but if I had noticed, I probably would have gone with a different option.

    Also, the positioning of the added “D”s and “R”s was deliberate, in that the added “R”s have ended up on the Left, while the added “D”s have ended up on the Right, if you imagine a central vertical “Aisle.” Don’t know if that will add (or perhaps detract!) from solvers’ enjoyment, but that is one level of consistency I was trying to achieve.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      That’s a neat touch, but yeah, I don’t think I would have ever caught that. Still, I love the attention to detail. Well done!

  6. BarbaraK says:

    Re LAT, I think looney is an alternate spelling for loony. (My spellchecker doesn’t agree, but and merriam-webster do.)

  7. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    Finished the WaPo puzzle without bothering with the small 5×5. I could see it would be a big time sink–not worth it.

  8. Abide says:

    Evan simply crushed it today. Congrats Evan! Came to read the write up and got an extra level of “holy cow” … I used the same five colored markers and pens to mark up my grid. For the same categories.

  9. Thanks, Jim! Very nice write-up, great job cracking the meta, and thanks for the year of reviews. (And now I have to put “A Christmas Story” on my to-watch list since I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.)

    Hope you all enjoyed the meta whether you figured it out or not!

  10. Joan Macon says:

    Guess what! The author on friends for LAT is the same as the newspaper! Two days in a row! Dare I hope this is a trend????

  11. jefe says:

    Physicists don’t use η (eta) for index of refraction; we use n. Computer scientists use eta, presumably because n is used for other things.

  12. Zulema says:

    I have two comments about the TV New Yorker puzzle, is this the right venue? 1) The correlation of LISTEN in English (40A) to OYE (69A) in Spanish works if the English one is in the Vocative (command) voice only. 2) The clue for CIENTO (51D) is incorrect (102 does not have an “and” in Spanish, the “y” in the clue.
    I did not get to this puzzle till late yesterday is why I am writing today. I am available to anyone by Email (

  13. john malcolm says:

    I used to feel smart before I saw the Birnholz meta.

Comments are closed.