Sunday, February 7, 2021

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 10:29 (Amy) 


Universal 3:56 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:28 (Jim P) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Katie Hale & Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword, “Toddler Talk”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 7 21, “Toddler Talk”

I am not sure if either of these constructors identifies as Black, but I was hoping to see maybe one of the other constructors from last year’s Black History Midis puzzle pack in this Sunday’s byline. Black History week lasted six days? At any rate, congrats to Katie Hale, who makes her debut today.

The theme changes R sounds to W sounds in various familiar phrases:

  • 24a. [Accept payment from Batman?], TAKE A WAYNE CHECK. Raincheck.
  • 31a. [Cause for celebration at a pachyderm sanctuary?], AN ELEPHANT IN THE WOMB. This is a nice image, but I’m feeling that “the elephant in the room” is more common.
  • 49a. [Finish scooping out a big stir-fry?], HIT WOK BOTTOM. Rock bottom.
  • 65a. [Puritan’s goal in 17th-century Salem?], GET WITCH QUICK. Rich.
  • 86a. [Something a Parmesan vendor might offer?], THE WHEEL DEAL. Real deal.
  • 100a. [What a stoner actor smoked during rehearsal?], WEED BETWEEN THE LINES. Ha! Read.
  • 111a. [Domain for Jameson and Maker’s Mark?], WHISKEY BUSINESS. Risky. I’m more Irish than Scottish and prefer the E-ful spelling here, and Jameson is Irish whiskey-with-an-E. The Scots prefer whisky.

The constructors’ notes at Wordplay tell us they’re both moms with young children, and the theme resonated with them. I do question whether we want to tag this as “Toddler Talk,” though, given that there are adults with rhotacism, too. I’m fine with letter-change themes with entertaining results, but in general would prefer not to link them to speech impediments.

Fave clue: 88d. [Rock song?], LULLABY. As in rocking the cradle or rocking the baby to sleep in your arms.

Fave fill: DEAD HEAT, VANNA WHITE, the movie AD ASTRA, HARD SELL, LIMERICK, VOCAB. Oh—and THE “F” WORD! Fuck yeah!

Surprised to see a long partial (with a good clue): 19d. [Slice of toast?]. “HERE’S TO—”. Not that I object to it, necessarily. Just thought the NYT frowned on partials over 5 letters. The legendary Merl Reagle certainly made use of 7-letter partials in his puzzles, and it doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying the crosswords. (By the way: You can still buy books of Merl’s puzzles at SundayCrosswords. His widow Marie told me she was sending out orders every day during the holiday shopping season! One of them was the two books I ordered for my mother, who loves Merl’s puzzles most of all.

Five more things:

  • 16d. [Andean empire member], INCA. I appreciate the absence of the inaccurate word “ancient.”
  • Superhero madness: It was unexpected to have two Superman clues in the opening corner (for CRIME and KAL-EL) and then Batman in the clue for the first themer. I was glad that the superhero content dwindled after that! Though I wouldn’t have complained if there were space for Wonder Woman, Black Widow, the Wasp, or Scarlet Witch.
  • 11d. [Doctor’s order], SAY AH. I wonder if physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are saying this a lot less often. If you don’t absolutely need your patient to remove their mask, if you don’t need to take a cursory look at the tonsils because they’ve got a sore throat…
  • 36a. [___ lecithin (chocolate additive)], SOY. Sure enough—checked the label of my Lily’s brand, stevia-sweetened, dark chocolate with crispy rice bar, and indeed, it’s got organic soy lecithin.
  • 69d. [It comes in California and New York styles], PIZZA. The hell? My Lou Malnati’s Chicago-style deep-dish pizza will be ready for pickup in 20 minutes. “California style,” is that a thing? Outside of California Pizza Kitchen restaurants? I feel like the rest of the country doesn’t have the occasional place touting its California-style pizza. (Sorry to Matt Gaffney if he’s reading this. Do you still have a Lou in the freezer?)

3.9 stars from me.


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Making the Leap” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Washington Post, February 7, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Making the Leap” solution grid

THEME: Every other letter of a word in a common phrase is circled, and each has its own apt revealer. Simple concept, but tougher than it should be to explain in a sentence!


  • COURT BATTLEOrb  /  Revealed with BOUNCING BALL.
  • SENIOR PARTNER. Irate / Revealed with HOPPING MAD. 
  • CARROT CAKE. Rock / Revealed with SKIPPING STONE. 
  • BELGIAN BEERS. Liner / Revealed with JUMPING SHIP. 

I co-solved this with a newer solver who is intimidated by the 21x grid. She sticks to the NY Times Mini Puzzle on the app and doesn’t venture out much further. This puzzle, however, could not have been a more perfect introduction to how accessible and fun “regular” crosswords can be. The theme was crystal clear after the first set of themers, and when we hit the next one and found IRATE was circled, she said “I bet the next long answer is HOPPING MAD!” When that proved correct, she was delighted. “What a cool idea!”

We guessed SKIPPING STONE without help, and got JUMPING SHIP off of the initial J.

A very steady and fun solve from north to south with no real hiccups.

Did anyone else have to sing that lyric for LAYLA before figuring out the answer?

Enjoyed the UNO fun fact: [Game with a Braille version that was released in 2019]. I had never considered that board games and card games could probably be more accommodating than they are to non-sighted people. 2019 seems a little late to be introducing Braille into that world. Does anyone have any insight on this? A quick google shows a few classic games that have the Braille option, but doesn’t look like a lot of availability.

Thanks, Evan!

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, more due to  the experience watching a potential solver become a solver.

Alan Massengill’s Universal crossword, “Get Away From It All” — Jim Q’s write-up

You can’t avoid this puzzle!

THEME: Common phrases reimagined as if they are about evasion.

Universal crossword solution · “Get Away From It All” · Alan Massengill · Thur., 2.07.20


  • 16A [Sidestep Holly on set?] DUCK HUNTER. 
  • 25A [Shirk duty at an archaeology site?] DITCH DIGGING. 
  • 41A [Avoid the “Don’t Stop Believin'” band?] DODGE JOURNEY. 
  • 55A [Eschew the turf in surf and turf?] SKIRT STEAK.

Fun, clean puzzle with a consistent, solid set of themers.

I’m only seeing now the fun clue at 58A [Nickname that sounds like the letters around “Q, R, S”] P – T = PETEY! I don’t know about that as a nickname. I think I’d be annoyed if people called me PETEY and my name were Pete. I mean, my close friends and family call me “Jimmy” and it’s fine. But PETEY should just be the dog on the Little Rascals and that’s it. [Kidding of course. I don’t want a horde of PETEYs trolling me. Though I will admit the phrase “horde of PETEYs” is very, very funny to me. ]

Classic Universal clue for SPA today: [Place aptly hidden in “relieves pain”]. Good find! SPA is anagrammed a couple times over in this puzzle, I just noticed :)

Not much else to say other than “Thanks for this one!”

3.8 Stars.

Gary Larson’s LA Times crossword, “Work Place” – Jenni’s write-up

I enjoyed the theme and have one major issue with the fill. We’ll get to that later.

The theme answers are ordinary phrases clued as if they apply to a workplace – hence the title.

Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2021, Gary Larson, “Work Place,” solution grid

  • 3d [Facility for recycling old batteries?] is a DEAD CENTER. We would also have accepted [Facility where Jerry Garcia recorded?].
  • 22a [Facility for processing vacation requests?] is a LEAVE OFFICE.
  • 24a [Facility where the higher-ups do business?] is a STATUS BAR.
  • 44a [Facility for researching cocoa-based goodies?] is a CHOCOLATE LAB.
  • 69a [Facility for baking custard-filled pastries?] is a NAPOLEON COMPLEX. That’s my favorite.
  • 79d [Facility for manufacturing homes?] is a HOUSE PLANT.
  • 97a [Facility for purchasing the latest fad items?] is a WHATS IN STORE.
  • 121 [Facility for a matchmaker?] is a SETUP SHOP.
  • 124a [Facility for cloning research?] is a DOUBLE SPACE.

It’s consistent and funny, and all the phrases are solidly in the language. Nice Sunday theme!

Back to my major issue with the fill. I was stunned with I got Mr. Happy Pencil because I was convinced that I had a mistake in the NW. 37a [Click beetles] are, apparently, ELATERS, I’ve been doing crosswords for over 40 years. If I’ve seen tht before, I promptly (and deservedly) forgot it. It’s a terrible entry. I can see that it would be difficult (or impossible) to get rid of the word without scrapping the whole section. Even so, I would have preferred [Those who send you to cloud nine] which is at least inferrable.

I stumbled around a bit in the rest of the puzzle, but that was my fault. I put in RES instead of REZ-de-chausée at 25d, and SWAMI instead of SAHIB  at 78a.

A few other things:

  • Not fond of RIFLED crossing RIFFLE with both clued basically the same way – [Thumb through] and [Searched roughly]. Aren’t they variants of the same word in that context?
  • I filled in 15d from crossings and couldn’t figure out what a FLUSH OT was. It’s a FLU SHOT. Duh.
  • Now I want pizza – we have a SLICE and a pizza OVEN. Mmm.
  • Since I spent a long time calling out editors for cluing OGLE as value-neutral or even complimentary, I will keep lauding them for clues like [Stare in a creepy way].
  • I can’t remember the last time I used an INDENT to start a paragraph.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above about ELATERS. I also did not know that Jada Pinkett Smith played Niobe in the “Matrix” sequels.

Victor Barocas’s Universal crossword, “I Would Not Eat Them”—Jim P’s review

The title evokes GREEN EGGS AND HAM so I was primed for the revealer at 110a [Sam’s book, and a hint to the starred answers’ ends]. Now let’s see what the theme is…

Oh, ha ha! Each theme answer ends in a word from the book. Of course, it helps if you know the book, but I’d guess most people know the line, “I would not eat them in a house.” And possibly the line, “I would not eat them with a mouse.”

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “I Would Not Eat Them…” · Victor Barocas · 2.7.21

Would you like them in PARLIAMENT HOUSE?
Would you like them with a CAT AND MOUSE?

Would you eat them in a SHADOWBOX?
Would you eat them with MEGAN FOX?

Would you? Could you? In a PATROL CAR.
Eat them! Eat them! Here they are!

You may like them. You will see.
You may like them in a DOLLAR TREE!

A train! A train! A train! A train!
Could you, would you on a POWER TRAIN?

Say! In the dark? Here in the dark!
Would you, could you AFTER DARK?

Would you, could you in the ACID RAIN?

Could you, would you with a BILLY GOAT?
Would you, could you on THE LOVE BOAT?

I could not, would not, on THE LOVE BOAT.
I will not, will not, with a BILLY GOAT.
I will not eat them in the ACID RAIN.
I will not eat them on a POWER TRAIN.
Not in a PATROL CAR! You let me be!
I do not like them in a SHADOWBOX.
I do not like them with MEGAN FOX.
I will not eat them in PARLIAMENT HOUSE.
I do not like them with a CAT AND MOUSE.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere!

I looove this theme, and I wish to heck I’d thought of it! It’s fun, playful, and rhythmic all at the same time.

(Rest assured, if you don’t know the book, the unnamed curmudgeon finally assents to trying the unusual dish and discovers he would in fact eat them anywhere.)


I did not know PHILO [Live TV option], so that hung me up at the end. EWELL [Surname hidden in “farewells”] is also an uncommon entry.

33a SHE and 16d HER remind me of a joke I just saw. “What are the pronouns for a chocolate bar?” Ans: “HER/SHE.” I’m a dad and I approved this joke.

I want to get this posted, so I won’t go through all the clues, but I will note my favorite: [Long running events?] for MARATHONS (note the lack of a hyphen).

Super fun theme, and lovely fill: 4.5 stars.

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19 Responses to Sunday, February 7, 2021

  1. Grant Whittle says:

    NYT 111A, Maker’s Mark is a poor choice because they eccentrically insist on using “whisky” despite being a bourbon.

  2. Billy Boy says:

    SuNYT – no baby talk, thank you. DNF

  3. john malcolm says:

    WaPo 101A Kingly? = EERIE???

  4. Jenni Levy says:

    I have not asked anyone to say “AH” in a very long time since sore throat is one of the symptoms of COVID. I feel necks for swollen glands and I look in ears, but I draw the line at having someone take off their mouth and exhale into my face, even when I’m wearing an N-95 mask and a face shield.

  5. Me says:

    LAT: Does “leaves on a dog”=SLAW refer to cole slaw being made out of cabbage leaves? I was confused by that entry.

  6. David L says:

    LAT: I too was mystified by ELATERS. It had me wondering whether there might be some sort of toy called a click beetle that makes babies giggle.

    Speaking of babies, I thought the NYT was kinda cute.

  7. PJ says:

    Elater sent me down a rabbit hole that came out here:

    I guess elastic relates to the internal spring they use for clicking and elevating.

  8. Dave Kennison says:

    Sunday Universal: I think the clue for 84-Across should be starred, since “I would not eat them in the RAIN” is also a line in the poem.

  9. David Steere says:

    WaPo: Another fun Sunday puzzle from Evan. Was 12 Down an Easter egg of sorts or another semi-themer? It was great to see two women constructors behind today’s NY Times but the theme is awfully thin and most entries are not amusing. I, too, am not entertained by themes that may relate to speech impediments. USA Today has a really nice puzzle by Erik Agard and Amanda Rafkin with quite an lovely answer at 55 Across.

  10. Doug Strain says:

    LAT: I originally put in AlHaig for 35A (Reagan secretary of state), but then figured out [George] Shultz. When I checked my recollection (Haig preceded Shultz), I noticed that Mr. Shultz just passed away yesterday.

  11. Me says:

    Can someone shed some light on today’s USA Today theme?
    (spoilers for the puzzle below)

    The title of the puzzle is “B Day,” and the four theme answers are

    I have no idea what the theme is!

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