Sunday, January 10, 2021

LAT 6:32 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:32 (Amy) 


WaPo 14:48 (Jim Q) 


Universal 5:57 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:35 (Jim P) 


Alex Bajcz’s New York Times crossword, “Oh, Fourpeat’s Sake!”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 10 21, “Oh, Fourpeat’s Sake!”

Theme is “phrases in which a random tetragram, a 4-letter chunk, is repeated”:

  • 22a. [Classic saying originated by John Donne], NO MAN IS AN ISLAND. That ANIS shows up twice, but I don’t like anise.
  • 31a. [Aid for making a tiki bar cocktail], BAHAMA MAMA MIX. I question the legitimacy of this one. Margarita mix and daiquiri mix, sure. “Bahama Mama mix” sounds arcane.
  • 48a. [“Glad to have you back, dear!”], WELCOME HOME, HON. Contrivance, not a legit “this is a thing” like the NO MAN IS AN ISLAND line.
  • 62a. [Most expensive block], PRIME TIME TV. Okay.
  • 72a. [Post-interruption question], “WHERE WERE WE?” Okay.
  • 87a. [First ruler of a united Hawaii], KING KAMEHAMEHA. Totally legit, but it feels more like MEHA is repeated than AMEH. Odd choice.
  • 103a. [Relatively light foundry product], ALUMINUM INGOT. Dull.
  • 118a. [Potful in some Italian kitchens], ROMA TOMATO SAUCE. Feels like it’d just be tomato sauce made with Roma tomatoes to me. Not a super-familiar phrase.

I might’ve liked this better as a daily puzzle theme with just three or four solid themers. Don’t think these eight all rise to the same level. Eight themers without any humor or wordplay to them is also a lot to work through.

2d RIOT shield and 76d ARMED GUARD evoke the events of Wednesday. I’m still shaken by this week’s upheaval and the stunning revelations of just how many people hate actual democracy. BAD OMEN. ALARMS. RELOAD? RETRIBUTION. I know none of this was the constructor’s intent, but I know I’m not the only one who bumps up against fill like this and feels the weight of those evocations.

2.8 stars from me. More fun stuff in the puzzle would have been a boon.

Fred Piscop’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Gimme a Hand!” — Jenni’s write-up

The puzzle fell easily, as my time would suggest. The theme took me a little figuring out. The hand of the title is cards. Each theme entry starts with something that happens at the poker table.

Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2021, Fred Piscop, “Gimme a Hand!” solution grid

  • 22a [*Smell awful] is DRAW FLIES.
  • 24a [*Do a garage job] is CHECK THE OIL.
  • 31d [*Speculate, in a way] is DEAL IN FUTURES.
  • 33d [*Have what it takes] is CUT THE MUSTARD.
  • 37d [*Do a washday chore] is FOLD THE LAUNDRY
  • 42d [*Try to deceive one of the base runners] is BLUFF A THROW.
  • 103a [*Walk off the job] is CALL A STRIKE.
  • 105a [*Cause a disturbance] is RAISE CAIN.

The theme didn’t add anything to my enjoyment of the puzzle since I didn’t figure it out while I was solving. It’s a perfectly fine theme that’s not particularly my cup of tea. It’s at least better than today’s NYT theme, but that’s a low bar.

We’re off to make beads again, so I’ll skip right to what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Anna FARIS had a role in “The Emoji Movie.” I also didn’t know that a ROOD is specifically a cross above an altar.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Break of Day” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Quick write-up for me since I have to go pick up (another) new puppy. I gave it all the consideration that one gives while standing on a checkout line, debating whether or not to purchase the latest Japanese imported Kit-Kat flavor, and decided that I did, in fact, need another Great Dane.

THEME: Abbreviations for days of the week are “broken” in theme answers.

Washington Post, January 10, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Break of Day” solution grid


  • 126A [With 129 Across, break of day … and what’s spelled out by the letters breaking the circled abbreviated days in this puzzle] FIRST LIGHT

This is one that should please the masses. That’s two weeks in a row! It’s also one that is great as in intro to Birnholz puzzles, as it has plenty of clever clues, fairly crossed entries that may not be all that familiar, and, of course, a hidden message that STILL caught me off guard even though I KNOW I should be on the lookout for it (that being FIRST LIGHT in this case).

Quite a few of the theme answers were new to me or not something I think of on a day-to-day basis. DILITHIUM CRYSTALS and LOTUS TEMPLES were brand new, TREE OF KNOWLEDGE rings a bell, and AIRBRUSH TATTOOS I only think of occasionally when I’m out some outdoor festival and I say to myself “Well look at that! Someone has an AIRBRUSH TATTOO tent!” But again, all fairly crossed, and Evan needs quite the string of consecutive letters to pull this off. They have to be odd number too, unless paired in the same row, in order to pull off the Left/Right symmetry.

Anyone keeping stats on how many WaPo puzzles are non-rotational symmetry, by the way? I would be very interested to find out! Maybe Evan has that detail…

Smooth fill helped for a steady North to South solve for me. I got hung up on DOT THE I’S as my brain only saw it as DOT THE(S)IS, which is not a thing, but I solved it in bed after a few glasses of wine last night.

Okay, that’s it from me! Off to get an oversized puppy.


Brad Wilber and Katja Brinck’s Universal crossword, “Enjoy Our Puzzle!” — Jim Q’s write-up

Cute title! Especially since it’s co-created.

THEME: OUR is added to common phrases, and wackiness ensues.

Universal crossword solution · “Enjoy Our Puzzle!” · Brad Wilber · Katja Brinck · Sun., 1.10.20


  • 17A [Earliest topping for fajitas?] PRIMAL SOUR CREAM
  • 27A [Like a baker who works the graveyard shift?] FLOURY BY NIGHT
  • 47A [What happens after a charity calls for hand-me-downs?] CLOTHES POUR IN
  • 62A [Synchronized obstacle-course running?] PARALLEL PARKOUR

It’s rare when every single themer lands so solidly for me in a theme like this, but these are all fantastic. If I had to pick one that I like the best, I suppose it’s FLOURY BY NIGHT because it’s so absurd and offers a fun visual to boot.

It took me a while to see the theme actually, because I was focused on the food aspect of it. The title as well as the first two themers gave me tunnel vision that I was supposed to be focused on the SOUR CREAM and the FLOUR parts rather than the OUR part, so a fun little facepalm when I finally figured it out.

Fill was just fine, though it took me longer than usual. I have such trouble spelling GANDHI. I always want to put the H after the G.

That’s it for me!

4.1 stars today.

Parker Higgins & Ross Trudeau’s Universal crossword, “Self-Denial”—Jim P’s review

We have a debut puzzle here for one of our co-constructors, so Congratulations are in order.

JUST IGNORE ME is the revealer at 121a [“Pretend I’m not here” … and a hint to the two extra letters in each starred clue]. Each clue has “me” in it somewhere and must be mentally removed to make sense of the clue.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Self-Denial” · Parker Higgins & Ross Trudeau · 1.10.21

  • 23a. [*Cement made with 2.5% copper] LINCOLN PENNY. Cent.
  • 32a. [*Theme present] THIS DAY AND AGE. The.
  • 51a. [*Painfully meshy chaps, perhaps] SHRINKING VIOLETS. Shy. The clue seemed needlessly gendered at first but then I realized the misdirection it’s going for. “Chaps” are people (blokes), but also an article of clothing.
  • 68a. [*Firmest lights] DAYBREAKS. First.
  • 70a. [*Amexes used by some Native Americans] TOMAHAWKS. Axes. There are two extra “me”s here that we’re apparently not meant to ignore. Or should this be read as [*Axes used by so Native Aricans]?
  • 87a. [*Romeo’s friend] CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Roo’s.
  • 104a. [*They circle a games giant] RINGS OF SATURN. Gas.

Something didn’t sit well with me during the solve, and I realized it was the clue for TOMAHAWKS (but not the bit about the extra “me”s). There’s nothing factually wrong with it, but it feels like it perpetuates the stereotype of the warlike, blood-thirsty Native American, which I could do without. But how else to clue it? After all, it’s not common knowledge that the tomahawk was used by American soldiers in Vietnam and Afghanistan or that some current-day tactical police units are issued them as well. (I certainly didn’t know that; I just looked it up.) There’s the Navy missile that bears the name “Tomahawk,” but then the misdirecting “Amex” couldn’t be used. There is another angle. I would have much preferred a clue like [*Amexes thrown in competitions].

That deeply troubled clue aside, the theme was tantalizingly inscrutable until the revealer did its job. Each clue seemed so close to making sense but there was just the one thing frustratingly off. Thankfully, the revealer provided that satisfying aha moment so that everything made sense and the LINCOLN PENNY dropped, as it were.

Top fill: FIRE DANCER is pleasantly EXOTIC. Then we also have WOODMICE, CHECKED BAG, IRS AGENT, AGED WELL, DO A SOLID (which would be better with a “me,” ironically), DOWNTIME, ANATHEMA, and CHOOSIER (though it opted for a non-Jif clue).

Clues were mostly straightforward, thus speeding up my solve time, but I will note 70d‘s [Error in tihs clue]. The answer is TYPO, but you know, it’s not really a TYPO if it was intentionally spelled that way.

That’s all I have. 3.5 stars.

Enjoy this silly, but kick-ass fire dance-off.

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11 Responses to Sunday, January 10, 2021

  1. huda says:

    NYT: It felt laborious to me… and once you stumble onto the theme, you can start filling the circles with partial answers and then back fill– which might have been efficient but sucked any joy out of the process. So maybe it’s the fault of my strategy as well.
    In the end, I agree with Amy that a smaller puzzle with this theme would have been more fun.

    • JohnH says:

      Totally. The repeated letters were more a solving aid than an aha, and nothing to catch a smile. Odd mix of theme answers as well, between the Hawaii factoid, an actual idiom like WHERE WERE WE, and made-up ones.

  2. Katherine says:

    (NYT) I’m no expert on egyptian gods, but I was convinced that I had a letter wrong in “AMONRA”. From a quick Google search, it seems that this is a lesser known, alternate name for ‘Amun’ (who I also hadn’t heard of, just for the record :) ). Too niche of a clue for my liking.

    • JohnH says:

      I actually had AMEN RA first. Just what I had seen before in crosswords.

      • RM Camp says:

        Same, and it kinda rankles me when this is used because of the three different acceptable spellings. I get why, but having to rely on crossings to make sure I’m using the right spelling, on something I know is otherwise right, is annoying.

  3. Mr. Grumpy says:

    NYT: Tedious.
    LAT: Poker verbs. Meh. And I though it was weird to have the non-theme ANTE in the grid.
    WaPo: Okay, although it’s disappointing when you can fill in so many letters without even thinking.
    Universal (Sunday): Baffling until the revealer, and my reaction was “So?” Not a fan of puzzles where the action lies in the clues rather than the grid. Maybe I would have liked it better had I zoomed down to the revealer, but that’s not my style [I refuse on principle to read Notepad as well], and it just played as a themeless for me [figuring that all would come clear in the end] until I finally got to the SE.

  4. David Stone says:

    Worst Sunday NYT puzzle in … well, a few weeks (there was another clunker recently). Ugh

  5. Paul J Coulter says:

    Universal – Congratulations, Parker, and great job, Ross. Really enjoyable puzzle. Loved the clever clueing. Best theme of the year, so far.

  6. Bryan says:

    NYT: As others have said, once I caught on to the trick, I was able to start quickly filling in the shaded squares based on ones I had already filled in. That took some fun out of it. It’s cool to find phrases that have this letter pattern, but this puzzle didn’t really rise above an “oh, that’s cool” moment for me.

  7. jefe says:

    LAT: as mentioned, the clue for ROOD references an altar, but ALTAR is also in the grid. And I would imagine that most undergrad engineering degrees are BSS, not BAS.

    • Bryan says:

      I read the “Eng.” as “English” degrees.

      But yeah, caught the ROOD/altar and then ALTAR and ALTER not far from each other.

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