Sunday, January 31, 2021

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT accidentally untimed (Amy) 


WaPo 33:14 (Jim Q) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Jim Hilger’s New York Times crossword, “Product Misplacement”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 31 21, “Product Misplacement”

Took me awhile to figure out what was going on with the theme answers, but eventually things cohered. Six familiar phrases have a generic noun replaced by a brand name for such a thing:

  • 23a. [Huge celebration after L.A.’s football team wins the Super Bowl?], MONSTER RAM RALLY. The Rams are again an L.A. football team. It never seemed right when they were in St. Louis, and it seems wrong that the Cardinals are in Arizona. Anyway, Ram (formerly Dodge Ram) is a brand of truck, and monster truck rallies are a thing.
  • 38a. [Reason that the prestigious scientific journal refuses articles from President Herbert’s relatives?], NATURE ABHORS A HOOVER. Hoover vacuums, the journal Nature.
  • 57a. [Apology from a musician to the other band members?], MY SOLO RUNNETH OVER. Solo plastic cups. This one’s kinda funny.
  • 79a. [Volunteered at a nursery?], WORKED FOR PLANTERS. Planters peanuts, legume of choice for monocle fans.
  • 97a. [Adding a historic ship as a deal sweetener?], THROWING IN THE BOUNTY. Took a bit for me to remember that Bounty is a brand of paper towel … even though their select-a-size is actually my preferred brand.
  • 117a. [Story about a drinking binge?], TALE OF THE SCOTCH. Scotch tape. I know “tale of the tape” solely from Cubs games, in the context of the tape measure distance a home run ball traveled.

I enjoyed the theme, had to work for it a bit.

I liked finding IRISH LINEN in the grid, but it felt like there was too much blah fill for me to enjoy the whole puzzle. OCTA, BAILOR, SEISMS, LOGE, SO RARE, VALOREM (!), AEONS, that sort of stuff.

It’s time for dinner now, so I’ll sign off with a 3.4-star assessment.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “That Makes No Sense” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Perfect title in more ways than one.

THEME: Phrases that have senses in them are clued as if the sense is not there with the crossing entries,

Washington Post, January 31, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “That Makes No Sense!” solution grid


  • 23A [Specialized cell that responds to stimuli] TASTE RECEPTOR. 
  • 49A [Device for many an Apple Music subscriber] iPOD TOUCH.
  • 70A [Something picked up at an auto dealership] NEW CAR SMELL. 
  • 93A [Go through notes, say SIGHT READ. 
  • 122A [C-SPAN 2 focus] SENATE HEARING. 
*Color coded solution grid courtesy of Evan

Yowza this one was tough. The cluing all around coupled with that curveball theme made the whole thing extremely difficult for me, clocking in at north of thirty minutes. To compare, my normal solve time is 10-15 minutes for a WaPo. Lots of elbow grease went into this one. But while definitely frustrating at times, I gotta say I rather loved it. It’s not often a WaPo goes for Fireball difficulty, which is what this one approaches imo.

When, out of the gate, you can’t get a foothold and you suspect something is amiss, the best thing to do is find several entries adjacent to one another that you’re absolutely certain of. For me, I found this foothold in the Southeast corner with ONO, RAP, TBS, ARES, PITA, and SEAL. Noting they all crossed.a longer answer I assumed they skipped over it, and knowing Evan’s style I began to drop in a fourth or fifth letter for each that would still make them legitimate crossword words.

That led to OH NO! REAPS, TABS, PINTA, and SEGAL, which in turn allowed me to see SENATE HEARING quite easily and gave me the AHA I needed so I could be on the lookout for more trickery. Senses are being skipped!

But wow, it was still a tricky path to the solution. Especially in the north. So many stumbles I don’t know where to begin.

ASININE for PUERILE (a word I’ve only read and never heard! I don’t know how to pronounce it. Is it “Pure Isle”?), HOE for CUE (great clue!),  ODYSSEUS for ARGONAUT (how do they have the same number of letters?! I mean, I know the former was headed for Ithaka, but I thought perhaps he wanted to do some sight-seeing at Colchis along the way…) STALKED for STANNED (I’ve never heard of STANNED, but STALKED did seem way too creepy an answer for the clue), LOTTA for LOTSA, TAWNY for TONED, ASP for RAM, okay I’ll stop there. There’s lots more.

We’ve seen the “skip-over-a-letter” idea before, but usually the cluing is softened up to compensate for the trickiness of the theme. Not here! In addition to all the aforementioned stumbles were plenty of ambiguous clues that could have multiple answers such as [Object] for ITEM. I mean, “Object” can be a ton of different things, right?

Mind you, none of this is a complaint. I rather enjoyed it. After all, it is a puzzle, right? And puzzles by nature should challenge and baffle. And some are just plain difficult. Difficult ones, in the end, should still be satisfying and fair, and this one fits that bill. My only real nit with the puzzle is that I would prefer if all the senses didn’t actually refer to senses… such as SENATE HEARING. HEARING in that sense doesn’t really evoke the auditory definition, whereas TASTE RECEPTOR certainly points directly to the sense.

There may be an element to the theme or its execution that I am missing. I’m not entirely sure.

One more curious note is a lengthy apology from Evan for the clue for 111D. I personally did not realize that it was controversial. I mean, has anyone ever listened to the “Lucy” episode of NPR’s RadioLab? That’s nuts (and intensely sad). Anyway, you can read the apology for yourself at Evan’s WaPo blog. 

I’m certain he’ll catch flak for this one, but I hope no one comments about Evan’s lack of ideas. The variety of ideas is what makes opening a WaPo puzzle so exciting every damn time.

Enjoy Sunday. Think snow.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Split Screen”—Jim P’s review

Take the phrase DIRECTOR’S CUT, remove the apostrophe, and you have an apt description for what’s going on here. Famous directors’ names have been cut in two and are found in the circled letters at the starts and ends of the theme entries. The revealer at 115a is clued [Edited version of a film, and a theme hint]. (Not the best clue, since all versions of a film are edited, but its intent is understood.)

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Split Screen” · Zhouqin Burnikel · 1.31.21

  • 23a. [Film set worker] CAMERA PERSON. James Cameron, Titanic, Avatar.
  • 29a. [Ralph Lauren cologne in a dark bottle] POLO BLACK. Sydney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, Out of Africa.
  • 46a. [Metaphorical flop] LEAD BALLOON. Sir David Lean. This name I didn’t know, but that’s on me as he directed some classics: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and A Passage to India.
  • 70a. [Classified spot] FOR SALE AD. John Ford, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man. This entry was so hard to parse, mostly because it’s not as common a lexical phrase as “classified ad.” It didn’t help that I thought the correct answer to 48d [Jennifer of “The L Word”] was BEALE not BEALS, and that E really messed me up.
  • 91a. [Fixes a damaged friendship] MENDS FENCES. Sam Mendes, Skyfall, American Beauty, 1917.
  • 107a. [Frosted, citrusy dessert] LEMON CAKE. Lee, either Ang or Spike or Francis.
  • 32d. [Doesn’t gain or lose] COMES OUT EVEN. Coen, either Joel or Ethan, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona.
  • 42d. [Section for a nurse] HOSPITAL WARD. Ron Howard, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon.

It’s nice that these directors are all either working today and directing some big-name films or that they directed some of the classics in cinematic history. It’s not so nice that there isn’t much diversity in the names. I’m sure Zhouqin would have looked, but maybe no good entries exist for Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Ava DuVernay (Selma), or Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation). Otherwise, solid theme, expertly executed.

There’s so much theme material—going in both directions—that there’s little room for sparkly long fill. We do get “I LOVE L.A.“, LOOK-SEE, AGE SPOT, OCEANIA, and “YES, LET’S!” but nothing much longer. POOL SALT [Crystals added to a certain swimming place] is a new phrase to me having never been involved in pool management. I am familiar with chlorine, shock, and pH balancers, but I didn’t know people added salt to pool water.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [European bathroom fixture]. BIDET. I’ve been seeing a lot more talk about these here in the States the last few years, especially since the pandemic started. I guess they’re becoming more popular. This article goes into the surprising reasons why Americans have resisted them for so long: Puritanism and sexism (okay, maybe not so surprising).
  • 88d. [Frozen Four org.]. NCAA. The clue refers to the collegiate ice hockey national championship tournament.

Solid grid all around. 3.75 stars.

Paul Coulter’s Los Angeles Times puzzle, “Sportscast” — Jenni’s write-up

Getting ready for the Boswords Wintersolve so this will be quick. The theme answers are phrases clued as if they referred to athletes.

Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2021, Paul Coulter, “Sportscast,” solution grid

  • 22a [The troublesome soccer player ___] KICKED UP A RUCKUS.
  • 34a [The bombastic archer___] SHOT HIS BIG MOUTH OFF. I knew an archer who shot himself in the foot. Never the mouth. That would be difficult. And yes, I do know it’s not meant literally.
  • 44a [The frugal lacrosse goalie ___] SAVED IT FOR LATER.
  • 63a [The daredevil baseball pitcher ___] THREW CAUTION TO THE WIND. I hear this in my head as WINDS, but Google NGram viewer says I’m very much in the minority. Good to know.
  • 81a [The politically ambitious sprinter___] RAN FOR PRESIDENT.
  • 90a [The lucky football received ___] CAUGHT A FALLING STAR.
  • 111a [The foolhardy hockey player ___] SKATED ON THIN ICE. That one I filled in without crossings.

A solid theme that was reasonably pleasing.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that CALI is WSW of Bogota.

Here’s what 90a makes me think of.

Jacob Stulberg’s Universal crossword, “Bringing It All Back Home” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: The word NET advances in each of the common phrases.

Universal crossword solution · “Bringing It All Back Home” · Jacob Stulberg · Sat., 1.31.20


  • (revealer) NET PROCEEDS

Well, not my favorite solve of the day. I don’t really see how NET is proceeding. In the grid, it looks like it’s receding to me, but I guess it’s a matter of perspective. I look at the grid north to south. I suppose this one is asking you to look at the revealer first and look south to north. Why not put the revealer north as the first themer? That might be cool- and certainly different.

I got hung up on a lot of fill too, and not in the way that I really enjoy. ARCED/ESSIE is an ugly cross imo, I think of HERBal TEA, not HERB TEA. CAN’T I, A SEC and a few more. I MEAN, I liked GRANDMAMA (I didn’t know she was MAMA… I thought just GRANDMA. According to the atrocious Addam’s Family: The Musical, it’s just GRANDMA).

But a puzzle all the same. Rarely a bad thing. And it wasn’t in this case.

Looking forward to getting back to our regularly scheduled Universals tomorrow!

2.1 Stars.

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Sunday, January 31, 2021

  1. Maxine Nerdström says:

    NYT, 7D: I don’t get how EUR is “part of Port.” ??? I have googled and apparently Porteur is a word… but that clue still seems nonsensical to me? Any help appreciated.

    • Zevonfan says:

      Hey Maxine,
      Port. is part of it : EUR
      Portugal is part of Europe.
      Best, Zevonfan

      • Maxine Nerdström says:

        Thank you!!! My brain just kept insisting on Portland or “porter” and for whatever reason, Portugal just didn’t occur to me. Maybe I accidentally absorbed the Arrested Development joke about Portugal being “down old South America way.” ?

  2. John A says:

    I think 5 Down should be “DIsmisses”.

    • pannonica says:

      –“When is the class dismissed?”
      –“It lets out at two.”

    • cyberdiva says:

      I agree. The class is dismissed = the class is let out.

    • cyberdiva says:

      For some reason, I didn’t see pannonica’s response until after I had posted mine, in spite of what the time stamp says. I just want to say that my “I agree” was intended as a reply to John A, not to pannonica. Pannonica makes a good point, but the clue has “is dismissed” together, rather than separating the two words by others.

  3. RSP64 says:

    The BOUNTY answer seems off to me. Towel and paper towel are not equivalents. I certainly don’t grab a paper towel when I get out of the shower. THROWING IN THE PAPER TOWEL isn’t a common phrase as far as I know.

    • JohnH says:

      I was ok with BOUNTY, figuring it’s jokey. Still, the puzzle for me had a bad combination of really easy with too much tired fill and a good three other theme answers that weren’t on my radar. I didn’t know the brand of those cups was SOLO, and I hadn’t heard of either TALE OF THE TAPE or MONSTER TRUCK RALLY (or at least the monster part). I’ll trust I should have known that RAM is a truck.

    • Steve Manion says:

      I thought that the IN was out of place. All of the other changes used the exact idiomatic expression except for the changed word. If that pattern was used, it would have been MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.

      I enjoyed the puzzle.

      • Zulema says:

        While I don’t usually work Sunday crosswords, I enjoyed this NYT’s very much. Thank you all.

      • Lois says:

        Steve, I think it’s correct. Only “towel” is changed to Bounty in the expression “throwing IN the towel” (BOUNTY). Different phrase.

  4. Thanks, Jim.

    While I did consider using phrases where none of them referred to the actual senses, I don’t think that was possible for what I chose to do instead: Each of the five Across answers’ clues should work both with and without the senses. [Device for many an Apple Music subscriber] can be IPOD TOUCH or just IPOD. [Go through notes, say] can be SIGHT-READ or just READ (because it can be notes in a music score or notes in a notebook). It’s a subtle thing that I don’t expect everyone’s going to notice, but I thought it was a good tie-in to the theme in that you can essentially ignore the sense letters in both directions.

    I hope that makes sense (while literally not making sense).

  5. Me says:

    WaPo: This was an enjoyable, tricky puzzle. I realize that it’s inherent in the theme, but I find it less than ideal in “skip a space” puzzles that the answers are really only clued in one direction for those spaces. I don’t know if there’s any way around it, though.

    Here, I had TOUCHRECEPTOR rather than TASTERECEPTOR for the first theme entry, which is a type of nerve that fits the clue and theme perfectly, and 3 of the 5 crosses made legit words: METAL, POUTS and CEASE. I didn’t know if OMONI and GAHL were wrong or just words I didn’t know. I figured Evan wouldn’t use something obscure in the crosses, and I eventually got to the IPOD clue for TOUCH, so it got cleared up eventually. As I said, that kind of thing is probably unavoidable in this kind of puzzle, but the unidirectional cluing can create some time sinks. It’s a very clever puzzle, though!

  6. David L says:

    The final themer in the NYT, TALEOFTHESCOTCH, doesn’t fit the pattern, because SCOTCH is not a specific brand name. Or am I misunderstanding something?

    I thought Evan’s puzzle was exceptionally good this week. I struggled to fill in the some of the blanks, but realizing that the downs had to be real words and that the unclued pieces were senses made it all hang together.

  7. Martin says:

    For the WaPo, as Jim notes, you can count on Evan to make the crossings real words, both with and without the senses. This “triple-checking” is actually a big help since many of the “with” words only work with a single letter. (THAD notwithstanding. :=)

  8. marciem says:

    I loved both the NYT and the WaPo today! NYT I had no clue about “tale of the tape” and went on a wild-goose chase for Scotch whiskey that might make sense. LOL, loved the “aha, d’oh” moment after walking away a bit. But it was a fun puzzle and no nits to pick here.

    WaPo… loved it in many ways. It puzzled me, for starters. Once I got the idea of skipping letters, was flummoxed that some letters were skipped and some not (this before I knew that the skipped letters were from the sense). Once I got that, adored that the skipped letters actually made words also (didn’t we recently have a skip-letter or something where the additional letter didn’t make a new word? I didn’t like that so much).

    And we don’t see or use the word “peurile” nearly enough these days!! and it soooo applies!! I can think of one example but won’t….

    I was unable to read Evan’s “apology” (I don’t subscribe to the WaPo)… what was the problem?

    • marciem says:

      …and oops sorry for the misspelling of puerile…. see, I told you we don’t use it enough!! LOL

    • I posted the statement on Twitter as well and you should be able to read it there, but the gist of it is that there’s a real sensitivity about equating sign language with what Koko and other gorillas had learned. It’s a far more complex language than just the signs that these apes had picked up, and there’s a history of hearing people stigmatizing the deaf community about their language.

      • marciem says:

        Ah, thanks! I would have known that if I’d read the write up correctly, which these old eyes saw as 11d which was hero which is “whats wrong with that?” LOL. I did see the discussion here about apes and sign-language last week or so.

        Anyway, thanks for the explanation and for the great puzzle!

      • David Steere says:

        WaPo: Just a late-to-the-party congratulations for what may be your best puzzle ever. Took me quite a while to break into the game but after I did, what a joy! I wrote “Amazing!” on the puzzle printout and slept very well last night after completing it. Thanks, also, for your sensitivity to the sign language/apes issue.

  9. johnm says:

    NYT: a bit if a nit, but Monster is also a brand name, so I rattled about how “energy drink ram rally” made sense…

  10. Philippe says:

    WaPO: tough but what a reward at the end. Beautifully constructed, remarkable fit. Left the 5 senses blank and wrapped up by filing them in. Wow!

  11. pannonica says:

    NYT: I believe “tale of the tape” is most associated with boxing.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Yes it has to do with the measuring tape used to determine things like each boxer’s reach (sort of like arm length) before a fight. I was surprised how many people didn’t recognize it but this probably shows how boxing is really becoming a minor sport.

      • Lois says:

        The expression is used in other sports also. It’s used in tennis, and Amy has heard it in baseball commentary. But thanks for the boxing explanation, Pannonica and Chris!

  12. David Steere says:

    UNIVERSAL SUNDAY: I regularly enjoy Zhouqin’s great puzzles at Erik’s very representative venue, USA Today. This Universal Sunday is a bit dull, by contrast. It is also disappointing, as Jim P mentions above, that there are no women directors mentioned. I suppose the kind of names that could be included to make this puzzle more representative would sadly not be known by most solvers but would be meat and potatoes for a film nerd like me. For example, see and and and!/Early-Women-Filmmakers-An-International-Anthology/p/80085513.

  13. Brenda Rose says:

    I was brought up by a deaf mother. When this broad-minded woman learned Koko was signing she was absolutely thrilled. I had no idea *there’s a history of people stigmatizing the deaf community* & can’t fathom why anyone would. Keller & Sullivan comes to mind. My mom would say she’s going to rest her eyes when she needed a nap: think about it. All my friends dug her & I’m sure she would be sad to know some people in a supposedly woke generation denigrate those with her affliction. RIP Rose.

  14. Steve says:

    Loved the WaPo! Worked on it off and on all day. Finally figured out to leave some of the cells blank then saw the solution and had my Doh! moment. Evan, I really enjoy your puzzles. A Sunday that I can do without cheating. I don’t care if took me a couple hours either. It’s Sunday after all. ?

  15. Mary P says:

    Could someone explain ant or aunt as the answer to the Wapo clue: a six-footer only millimeters tall? I had thought of an eel or snake.

  16. Dan Asimov says:

    I was rather puzzled by the WaPo puzzle for a long time, and also had trouble getting a foothold in the upper left. Slowly the trick dawned on me. A lot trickier than previous WaPo Evan Birnholz puzzles I’ve tackled. But fun!

  17. Seth Cohen says:

    I know this is a couple days late, so maybe no one will see this, and this is just a silly thought, but:
    NYT 50A is USED, clued as “Kind of bookstore.” But the bookstore isn’t used — the books are. “USED” is not a kind of bookstore — it’s a kind of book. You wouldn’t answer “What kind of bookstore is that?” with just the word USED.

    Reminds me of how my wife emphasizes angle food cake: she puts the emphasis on “food,” so “foodcake” is said rather quickly, making it sound like “foodcake” is a thing, and the type of foodcake we’re about to eat is angel. I put the emphasis on “cake” and say “angel food” rather quickly, because “cake” is the thing, and the type of cake is angel food.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      It’s like the classic “sea anemone” clue, [Kind of anemone] for SEA. We’re supposed to pretend that these clues work. Really, they’re just fill-in-the-blank clues where the editor for some reason wishes to not use a FITB clue like [___ anemone].

      It’s ANGEL food cake, clearly. You and your wife are both wrong. Devil’s food cake is rich chocolate, so you want to emphasize the “angel”!

      • Seth Cohen says:

        I meant that I emphasize angel! I realized too late that I’d written it incorrectly. Glad someone was around to share my silly thought!

  18. John Malcom says:

    “Puerile” — there are multiple pronunciations, and Americans only half try to pronounce things these days anyhow (viz “stan”) but to be clear, it’s PURE-isle. Evan’s puzzle was not, though it took me considerably longer than 30 minutes.

  19. Gail Farmer says:

    Jacob Stulberg’s Universal crossword, “Bringing It All Back Home” — Jim Q’s write-up

    On my end it shows the puzzle theme as “STUL”. I believe this is an error because I don’t see how it connects to anything in the theme. Does anyone else think this is a mistake? Please explain

Comments are closed.