Sunday, May 16, 2021

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 12:54 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


WaPo untimed : meta 1/2 day (Jim Q) 


Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword, “A Shot in the Dark”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 5 1621, “Shot in the Dark”

Okay, I absolutely did not see the connection between the words hidden in the black squares till after finishing up. Various words that can precede shot are what’s hiding, sort of rebus style, with theme answers crossing that black (“the dark”) rebus box.

  • 15d, continuing into the 42d in the puzzle version I solved. [“Hallelujah!”], PRAI{SE T}O GOD / 33a. [Improved version of an existing product], BETTER MOU{SET}RAP. A set shot is, I think, a basketball term.
  • 4d. [Tools for landscapers], HEDGE T{RIM}MERS / 43a. [Fix for a bald spot], HAI{R IM}PLANT. Just the one plug of hair? Must be a teeny bald spot! *rim shot*
  • 65a. [Real deal], GENUIN{E AR}TICLE / 35d. [Carefully avoid], TIPTO{E AR}OUND. Within earshot.
  • 78a. [Highly resistant elastomer], SILIC{ONE} RUBBER / 57d. [Phenomenon by which electrons radiate from a heated filament, so named for a famous observer], EDIS{ON E}FFECT. Didn’t know either of these specific things. One shot is … I’m not sure what it is. A random number of shots of espresso or booze??
  • 110a. [Like some roller chains and ball bearings], SEL{F-LU}BRICATING] / 89d. [Very easy living], LAP O{F LU}XURY. Flu shot, an annual vaccine I encourage you to get this fall. Though if you should do the masking/hand-washing combo this fall and winter, you probably won’t catch the flu. Hardly anyone caught it this past flu season!

There are a couple revealers, sort of, with the puzzle title also serving as clues for these two: 23a. [Shot in the dark], UNEDUCATED GUESS /127a. [Shot in the dark], LAST-DITCH EFFORT.

Interesting theme concept, though I didn’t find it particularly engaging to solve.

Five more things:

  • 82d. [“I touched your nose!” sound], BOOP. If you’re under 50 and don’t know the old Betty Boop cartoon character, this clue is for you. If you’re on Twitter, you may well see lots of dog photos with noses front and center, awaiting a boop. Rabbits, babies—all sorts of nose-havers can be booped.
  • 21a. [Loud thudding sound], CRUMP. Huh?? Merriam-Webster lists a crunching sound but not a thudding one. It’s a rather obscure word, and I wonder if Joe originally clued this as civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump. (He’s the one who has represented an ungodly number of bereaved families.) Mr. Crump is actually being interviewed on tomorrow’s CBS Sunday Morning show. An excerpt: Crump comments, “When you think about what Black people have been suffering for 400 years in America, since 1619 when the first enslaved Americans were brought to America, I would argue [it is] legalized genocide – when you think about the very laws that have been created that are supposed to protect us are being used to kill us. When you think about what happens in every city, in every state, in every courtroom in America, every day, you see that they are killing our people. They’re killing African Americans, they’re killing marginalized people of color, using the law, whether it’s killing them physically, or it’s killing them legally with these trumped-up felony convictions.” True that.
  • 122a. [Nickname for the Wildcats of the Pac-12], ZONA. Haven’t seen this one in use. I do know that ZONA is a scientific word. Something to do with embryos in the laboratory, maybe? A hamster connection?
  • 75d. [Apple on the teacher’s desk?], IMAC. Teachers, chime in: Do you use a laptop at work or is there a desktop computer in the classroom?
  • 8d. [Net wt. of many pasta packages], ONE LB. Guess what? It’s probably gonna say NET WT. 1 LB without spelling out the number as the word ONE, or it’s going to be written out as “one pound.”  Spelled-out numbers where numerals belong have been a crossword pet peeve of mine for years. (The plane or band UTWO is the pinnacle of this. Pronounce it ut-whoa!)

3.25 stars from me.

Roland Huget’s LA Times crossword, “Extra Bedrooms” – Jenni’s write-up

Each theme answer has BR added to a phrase. It’s cheaper than building a new room, especially these days…

Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2021, Roland Huget, “Extra Bedrooms,” solution grid

  • 16d [Dirt at the stable?] is BRIDLE GOSSIP (idle gossip).
  • 23a [Toaster oven user?] is a BROWNER OPERATOR (owner-operator).
  • 34a [Barbecue guests?] are BROIL COMPANY (oil company).
  • 52 [Fraternity news contacts?] are BROTHER SOURCES (other sources).
  • 58d [Fight among poor pool players?] is a SCRATCH BRAWL (scratch awl, which my husband says is a tool).
  • 76a [Really dangerous edge?] is an INVISIBLE BRINK (invisible ink).
  • 93a [Structural pieces for a tiny Christmas village?] are POCKET BRACES (pocket aces).
  • 110a [Ship’s rope?] is a NAVIGATION BRAID (navigation aid).

The theme is solid and consistent. I like the way the BR insertion moves from the first word to the second in the bottom half of the grid.

Whoops! Computer battery is low and I’m too lazy to go look for the power cord, so that’s it for me except for what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the CORONER on CSI is Dr. Al Robbins.

Alex Eaton-Salners’ Universal crossword, “Group Play” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Common phrases reimagined as if they’re something related to a group of animals

Universal crossword solution · “Group Play” · Alex Eaton-Salners · Sun., 5.16.21


  • 17A [Fish’s midday meal?] SCHOOL LUNCH.
  • 38A [Wolves’ winter walking surface?] PACK ICE. 
  • 40A [Whales’ swimming competition?] POD RACE. 
  • 62A [Lions’ procession?] PRIDE PARADE. 

This is very over-the-plate for an Eaton-Salners puzzle. I usually brace myself for something out-of-the-norm when I open one of those. Interesting construction too with both of the central themers occupying the same row. Plenty of room for other longer entries in the fill like HAS A SMOKE, I CAN’T EVEN!, IRON MASK (is that a partial? Dunno. It’s kinda clued like one), CASH CROP, RECKON SO, RIP CORDS, PIPE ORGAN, and GO IN PEACE, all of which are longer than two of the themers. Yet somehow, the theme still shines through. Nicely done.

Nice to get a fresh, fun, Universal style clue for ETA [Flight-related abbr. hidden in “ticket agent”]. 

Least favorite fill = SHISH. I kinda like the funkiness of the letter combos for HR REP in the grid.

3.5 stars.

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

Two. metas in a row! That’s sure to delight some solvers (I’m in that crowd) and miff some others. Both took a little elbow grease too; The answer wasn’t immediately apparent in either.

Washington Post, May 16, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Hidden Gem” solution grid

THEME: The instructions tell us we’re looking for the name of a birthstone in the grid.


Well, I’ll be darned. There seems to be only one.

Right in the middle of the grid we have

[Hint that you must use several times to find the hidden gem in this puzzle’s grid] X MARKS THE SPOT. 

This must be the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen that phrase used as a themer in a puzzle. More than once it’s been in a meta puzzle. But this time, the grid is devoid of extraneous X’s. None in the clues either. I’m sure that was intentional on Evan’s part as to not send the solver down a deep rabbit hole.

So then what is it?

I confess, it took me a while to see it, and I put in a lot more thought into uncovering this week’s answer than I did last week’s.

One of the best ways that I’ve found to solve a meta that you’re stuck on is to simply re-solve the puzzle. Slower. Paying closer attention to the clues and the entries. Re-solving also serves as a reminder of things that bothered you the first time that you may have forgotten about.

My AHA moment.

That last one did the trick for me. Two things stuck out as odd during my first solve. They just weren’t big enough at the moment for me to slow down. However, during my second solve, you can see in the screenshot where I stopped when I’d realized I’d hit upon something:

In the west of the grid slightly south of the center, there is an awful crossing. HAH and HEH to be specific. And they’re also in amongst an unfamiliar name (to me) SHEEHAN and an unfamiliar title (to me) THE HEIRESS. What’s up with that? Why so many… H’s….. in an X formation. Aha.

I was then reminded of the POPE / POP crossing which I had also noticed during the first solve, which isn’t bad at all… just odd. And look at that. The P’s up there are also in an X formation. That’s a solid meta “click.”

See the below grid (courtesy of Evan) for all the other letters that can be found in an X formation:

Of course, they spell out the meta answer: SAPPHIRE.

I liked this one a lot. A very satisfying click, which is the sign of a strong meta. In some of Evan’s other metas, there is frequently an apparent theme of sorts (like last week’s in a way), so even a non-meta fan can enjoy it. This one doesn’t really have that, so it’s either solve it as a themeless, or dive in. Unfortunately, that’s an indication that it will receive poor ratings here simply because it is a meta-puzzle. Ah well. At least I am confident that that won’t deter Evan from constructing metas in the future.

Enjoy your day!

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Fantastic Beings and Where to Find Them”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Long theme entries hide mythical creatures.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Fantastic Beings and Where to Find Them” · Paul Coulter · 5.16.21

  • 23a. [Contract provision about increasing an offer on a home] ESCALATOR CLAUSE. Not sure I’ve heard of this one, and it’s a long way to go just to hide ORC.
  • 38a. [Color named for a nut] PISTACHIO GREEN.
  • 47a. [Treating very harshly] SHOWING NO MERCY. Nice find.
  • 69a. [Like the conga drum’s origins] AFROCUBAN.
  • 84a. [Archipelago off South America] TIERRA DEL FUEGO.
  • 94a. [Tax list] ASSESSMENT ROLL. Never heard this term before.
  • 114a. [State something differently] PUT IT ANOTHER WAY.

I enjoyed this despite a couple new-to-me terms. I just don’t understand why the puzzle isn’t titled “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” I guess because you wouldn’t consider a TITAN a beast? I could look the other way on that one.

The puzzle has remarkably clean fill. I was expecting it to get sloggy, but Paul keeps it fresh with interesting long entries in both directions. I don’t know CHRIS BOSH, but I’m sure plenty of people do, and the crossings are all fair. But otherwise there’s TEACHER’S PET, KALAHARI, BURNT SIENNA, FOUR-LEAF, GOES APE, HELPED OUT, and a bunch of nice 6s and 7s (I especially liked seeing POWWOW).

Clues of note:

  • 3d. [Animal that technically isn’t a whale]. ORCA. I don’t feel like looking it up at the moment. What is it then?
  • 57d. [Tool thrown at a trendy bar]. AXE. Aren’t darts bad enough? Now we’re throwing axes?
  • 61d. [Certain Caribbean islander, colloquially]. TRINI. Never heard this one either, but it’s nice to learn. Much easier to say than “Trinidadian.”

Simple theme that was still fun to uncover. Lovely fill all around. Four stars.

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32 Responses to Sunday, May 16, 2021

  1. Jan O says:

    I agree that the NYT was not engaging to solve. Perhaps it would have been slightly more engaging if I had solved it on paper with the inksaving option so that I could write in the three-letter words and not just keep them in my head while solving online. I didn’t like CRUMP, but the clue/answer that really was unfortunate to me was 64A: Award to wear: STAR. I suppose the editors were going for a Wild West reference, but without more specificity, it also evokes WWII.

  2. pseudonym says:

    3.25? I thought this was an easy 5 with the gimmick and its execution. And I don’t know how original a clue “First offer?” is for CAIN, but its hilariously clever. Surely a clue of the year contender.

  3. Greg says:

    Pretty harsh assessment of DiPietro’s deftly constructed puzzle. I completed the puzzle; had a list of the three-letter words hidden in the black squares; and, for a good few minutes, couldn’t figure out the connection between them. Then I looked again at the puzzle title and I had that “D’oh!” moment. Brilliant connection between title and rebuses.

  4. Eric says:

    Zona is a shortening of ‘Arizona’, and is a nickname for the University of Arizona in Tucson, whose mascot/athletic teams are the Wildcats, and play in the Big-12 conference.

  5. JohnH says:

    I very much liked the NYT, mostly for the theme. It took me way too long to get the idea that the unclued fill finished the answers that didn’t seem to fit, especially since we’ve had a theme like that before. But then the extra spin of making the connection among the black squares and between them and the top and bottom answer were nice for me. I liked the puzzle’s coming in steps.

    Fill was so-so. I kept looking and looking for my mistake with CRUMP. Surely “clump” or some such was meant, but nope. I also didn’t care for the crossing of ENZI and ZONA.

    BTW, nice to learn that Joe was the proprietor of No Idea bar. (The print puzzle in the Sunday magazine now comes with a pocket biography, mostly boring.) It’s not far at all from me, and I used to go there all the time. I’ll have to check out his current business, which is a bit further from home.

    • JohnH says:

      Oh, forgot to say: of course, I realize I’m the last person whose ear for informal language you should trust, but my association with “one shot” is that something is a one-shot deal if you take action and then it’s over and done with.

  6. Chet says:

    Retired teacher here—. About the iMac clue, a lot of schools have a desktop computer on the teacher’s desk. However, most are probably PCs (mine was) because of cost…even though a lot of people would’ve rather had an iMac in front of them.

    • Jim Quinlan says:

      The only school in my area that has Macs for teachers’ classrooms got them on a grant a long time ago. If a Mac is on a teacher’s desktop in all the other public schools in the area, you can confidently assume it is the property of the teacher.

  7. MattF says:

    NYT was very impressive– however, not so much fun, IMO. Fourteen thematic entries, all the hidden shot-squares are three letter words and their placement is symmetric. The large number of thematic entries left a lot of the puzzle open until the very end. The breakthrough entry for me was EDISONEFFECT, but I’m a physicist…

  8. David L says:

    DNF for me on the NYT because of the ENZI/ZONA cross — two pretty obscure proper names crossing seems like a NO-NO to me. The BOPIT/BEER cross wasn’t great either, but after running the alphabet I figured BEER sounded like something Zappa would say.

    After whiffing totally on last week’s WaPo meta, I got this one very quickly. Clearly something to do with the grid pattern (as there are no other Xes in the fill) and after a little scanning of the finished puzzle I found a couple of the ‘X’ formations and then quickly tracked down the others. Very elegant that the letters spelling out SAPPHIRE are placed in an orderly fashion across the grid. Also, no googling required!

  9. Me says:

    WaPo: I didn’t understand Short seller?=REP . Could someone help explain? Thanks in advance!

    • pannonica says:

      Abbrev. for representative, who could be a salesperson.

      • Me says:

        pannonica, thank you! I was going down this pathway where an actor’s agent is his rep, and this was a reference to Martin Short’s agent, but that just seemed way too far-fetched. As is often true, it is much simpler, but only if you are thinking about it the right way!

  10. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT … It seems like some kind of crossword technical foul to have ONE LB as an answer elsewhere in the grid if you’re going to use ONE as ONE of your “shots in the dark”. No?

  11. Judith N Macaluso says:

    I’m with pseudonym: a 5 rating from me. The theme and it’s execution we’re original, surprising, and ultimately very satisfying. The puzzle had me defeated, then elated when I solved it. I agree, crump should have been edited out!

    • Doug says:

      Crump is a British-ism, but it will be familiar to those who are acquainted with the literature of the World Wars, where the CRUMP of exploding artillery shells is a frequent backdrop. In spite of a few rough spots, overall I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and unusually challenging Sunday puzzle!

  12. armagh says:

    NYT a classic example of a constructor making a puzzle for his/her ego versus the joy of the solver. Yes, you’re a darned clever guy, but the puzzle sucks. Fire Will Shortz.

    • R says:

      I’d be curious to see any puzzle that is demonstrably and unambiguously for the joy of the solver and not the ego of the constructor.

  13. Thanks, Jim.

    You are correct in your second-to-last sentence. I can think of a few things that *might* deter me from writing certain kinds of puzzles, but a) the Crossword Fiend ratings are not and never will be among those things (why people still take them seriously at all, I don’t know), and b) I’m not going to stop writing metas. I like them.

  14. Ch says:

    A paean for Benjamin Crump, the latest & biggest ambulance-chasing race baiter around, arguably unseating the former & formidable title holder, Al Sharpton? I know, I know, it’s YOUR blog, but wow.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Pretty sure the “race baiters” are the cops disproportionately targeting Black and brown folks …

      • Ch says:

        Do I think some cops without warrant target black people? Yes, I do. Do I think the great majority of them do? No. It’s in the Left’s interest to perpetuate the narrative of systemic racism. Are there racist people in this country or for that matter other countries? Unfortunately yes. However, I agree with Senator Scott: America is NOT a racist country. It was not founded on racism. The 1619 Project is a load of hogwash, no matter the NYT. And no matter how vogue it is at the moment i.e. Critical Race Theory, fighting racism with racism is racist. I’m staying in the camp of Martin Luther King, Jr.

  15. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Did you know that MLK spoke out against police brutality against his brethren? The “I Have a Dream” speech included this statement: ““We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

    • Ch says:

      I’m certainly not surprised to hear it. I don’t think anyone who isn’t racist has a problem with calling for an end to police brutality – I’m certainly not. But on this side of heaven, it’s probably a sad truth that some undeserving people of any race will be a victim in a law enforcement situation. Should there be attempts to minimize any such occurrences? Of course. However, personally I don’t think it’s helpful for the media or people like Crump to inflame racial tensions each and every time any person of color is killed in a law enforcement interaction. There are many recent incidents of interactions with police which resulted in death or injury, which were not police brutality, but were portrayed in the media as such.

      I do appreciate the civil back and forth. I think more dialogue like this is helpful.

  16. Sue says:

    I find it irritating when puzzle-makers just make words up, for instance “Dude, slangily” at 1-across on 5/16. So the answer was “Brah” – what is “brah?” Did you mean “Bruh” which would be slangish for “Bro”? Who called anyone “Brah” ever, slang or not? It’s especially irritating when in the 1-across spot – it puts you off the puzzle from the get-go.

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