Sunday, July 25, 2021

LAT untimed (Jim P) 


NYT ~11:30 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 7:14 (Darby) 


WaPo 10:28 (Jim Q) 


Chandi Deitmer’s New York Times crossword, “Star Search”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 7 25 21, “Star Search”

Complicated theme here: The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper can be drawn, more or less, by connecting the dots that are the rebus squares, the letter I in the Across direction and X in the down. Why I and X? I don’t know. The three longest entries explain the constellations some, as do some shorter themers:

  • 115a. [Ones committing a party foul … or the images depicted in this puzzle’s grid?]. DOUBLE DIPPERS. The party foul is dipping a chip into the dip a second time, after taking a bite with the first dippity doo.
  • 19d. [Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle’s grid, in African American folklore], DRINKING GOURD. I did not know this. With the two rightmost stars of the Big Dipper extending their line to Polaris at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle to point towards the north, some say this drinking-gourd constellation helped enslaved people journey to freedom.
  • 22d. [Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle’s grid, in Babylonian folklore], WAGON OF HEAVEN. Never heard of this, either. That was what the Babylonians called the Little Dipper.
  • 9d. [Celestial figure depicted in this puzzle’s grid, in Roman folklore], SEVEN OXEN. Again, unknown to me.
  • 61a. [Alpha and Beta Ursae ___ (pointers to 68-Across)], MAJORIS.
  • 68a. [Guiding light], POLARIS.

If there’s a place in the puzzle where it’s explained why the letters I and X are used, it eluded my notice. Entries with those I/X crossings are IPAD PRO / AXLES, IN FAVOR / TAX, YIELD / ALEXANDRA, FRIJOLES / ON NEXT, KIRIN / SPACEX, SAN DIEGAN / SEVEN OXEN, IFFIER /AXL, DAHLIA / TEX, MAJORIS / ETEXT (*ahem* I have never seen ETEXT in actual use, grr, boo), POLARIS / XTINA, ISSA RAE / EXAM, IMDB / NIXON ERA, INCOGNITO / NO EXCUSE, DOUBLE DIPPERS / ANNEXES.

Whew! That’s a lot of moving pieces for one puzzle. Fourteen paired I/X answers plus two more theme answers not touching the I/X squares. Please thank your blogger for taking the time to trace out those constellations! (Or asterisms, if you insist.) It took time!

It’s time for dinner now, so I’ve gotta run. Will just briefly mention the worst entries in the mix: 31d. [Sharing maternal lines], ENATIC (I’ve seen ENATE as old crosswordese, but this -IC word form? Not sure I’ve ever encountered it before) and the aforementioned 50d. [Digital writing], ETEXT. There was a little more clunky stuff, but overall the fill was solid. Dang, Chandi! It must have taken so long to wrangle the fill to end up with this.

3.75 stars from me, was not not feeling the connect-the-dots vibe today but appreciated learning the various mythologies connected to these stars.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Captain Obvious Goes to the Farm” – Jim Q’s Write-up

For those of you who are new to Captain Obvious, say hello. He is now part of your crossword family. He will be here to stay. As soon as you’ve forgotten about him, he shows up at the latest reunion, completely oblivious to the fact that you don’t exactly know how you’re related to him. He’s unapologetically loud, and is entirely unaware that when people rub their brows after he speaks, it is often in exasperation. In my mind’s eye (this time), he sports a mustache, glasses, eyes that scream excitement when discussing the mundane, a solid white button-down shirt (with a pocket protector), and a smile that betrays amazement every moment of the day. Today, he’s gnawing on some straw for extra measure. He’s not sure why, even though we know full well why. To him, it’s “just cuz.”

Even though no one is sure what side of the family generated his existence, you accept him as kin. You embrace him. In the way that you embrace a person when they call your name in the produce section at the local supermarket and they brazenly go in for the hug while you thumb through your mental Roladex trying to figure out who it is. Then, after small talk, you still have to pass the person in six other aisles before ending up at the same register.

Ya’ know. Unoffensive. But awkward. And yet, you’re strangely happy to have had the interaction.

I mean, you still embraced.

THEME: Captain Obvious goes to the farm (farm animal idioms interpreted literally).

Washington Post, July 25, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Captain Obvious Goes to the Farm” solution grid


  • 23A [“___ would look silly trying to cover its fur with wool”] A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING. 
  • 40A [“___, and those mares will get hugs”] HOLD YOUR HORSES. 
  • 55A [“___? Then it may be difficult to get milk”] DON’T HAVE A COW. 
  • 67A [“___, boars will soar”] WHEN PIGS FLY. 
  • 79A [“___? They’re over there, relaxing with the other drakes”] SITTING DUCKS. 
  • 95A [“___? That’s when you get wounded by a hen’s nail”] CHICKEN SCRATCH. 
  • 114A [“___, and you’ll probably be gored”] TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS. 

Yup. So obvious it hurts, but in such a good way. It reminds me of that recurring Jeopardy! category “Stupid Answers” where the correct answer is so literal that it’s almost elusive. I say “almost” because I’ve started taking advantage of Captain Obvious to try to set record times. I’m onto him. I came close to breaking the ten minute barrier today, which I don’t recall doing in any of Evan’s 21x (I could be wrong, I don’t keep track). There were only two theme entries here that I needed any crosses for: DON’T HAVE A COW and SITTING DUCKS. The rest? No probs at all. And isn’t it intensely satisfying to plunk in not one, but two 21-letter answers sans crosses?


    • SICK BURN is a sick entry.
    • HOBART… just saw that very recently in another puzzle. Did research on it two years ago to see if it was feasible to bicycle there during our American summer (it’s not really, if you’re looking for a casual fun time that is), and the name will now officially stick.
    • CAYUGA/LEADSMEN both rang a bell (especially in retrospect), and both were inferable, but that’s about as close to a Natick as you will see in a WaPo (and it’s not at all a Natick).
    • Love the EMU clue [Bird mentioned as one of the exotic pets that one might buy in the Barenaked Ladies song “If I Had $1,000,000”].

  • [Cigarette container] PACK. If someone forced me to ban something commonplace from crosswords that had nothing to do with discrimination or sexism, it would be cigarette references (especially when totally avoidable, like in the clues). I smoked almost two PACKs a day until two years ago (I was hooked at 13 and I’m 41 now). Now? Nothin’. As a teen, I totally took the bad-ass-appeal bait from such-and-such marketing firm. It’s painful to say, but I’m estimating I spent upwards $150,000 on that bullshit. So gross. I will never, ever come close to inhaling a cigarette (electronic or otherwise) again. I’d say it’s easy enough to keep ’em out of crosswords. Bring on the pot references. Keep the killer stuff out (lookin’ at you too ECIG and JUUL). Of course, you who is reading this likely has a fully developed frontal lobe and can handle it, but I was into crosswords as a ten-year-old. Children are curious. I mean… I actually read like all of ERMA Bombeck’s stuff as a pre-teen just because I saw her name so frequently in my 13×13 crappy local-yokel newspaper syndicate crossword.
  • THU. How do you shorten Thursday? For me it’s always, Thur. But I’m never confident in that. I don’t know why it’s the only day for which I award an extra letter.

New to me:

THE CUT, Holly ROWE, EYE CUP (I think? Somehow I knew it and entered it, but I’m not sure why).

One thing I can promise:

Captain Obvious will be back.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Stretch Goal”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each of the four themed answers began with “GO” and ended with “AL,” stretching out “goal” across the puzzle.

Themed Answers:

Zhouqin Burnikel’s 7/25/2021 “Stretch Goal” puzzle solution

Zhouqin Burnikel’s 7/25/2021 “Stretch Goal”

  • 16a [“Broken the internet”] GONE VIRAL
  • 29a [“Master chef’s creation”] GOURMET MEAL
  • 48a [“Wasn’t treated fairly”] GOT A RAW DEAL
  • 65a [“Prize for first place”] GOLD MEDAL

Overall, this was a cute theme, especially with the inclusion of GOLD MEDAL, the start of the Olympics on Friday night, and the mention of ATLANTA as home to the Centennial Olympic Park in 25a. “Stretch” was also a clever way of describing what was happening with each “go[…]al,” making it so that once I got one of the themers, it was easy to go back and figure out the rest. My only complaint was that I felt that “broken the internet” was awkward cluing to GONE VIRAL. I’m not sure it was necessarily enough, though I understand the need to avoid “went viral” as the alternative, but I think that that clue could’ve been tightened up a bit. Additionally, on a more positive note, “stretch” also implied a subtle fitness theme seen in two clues: 50d [“In ____ shape”] (TIP-TOP) and 70a [“Gym rat’s units”] (REPS), which was a fun bonus.

There was a really nice mix of clues in this puzzle. Going from the RIMS of 1a [“Car wheel accessories”] to the rosary BEADs of 72a [“Rosary part”], Zhouqin pushed for an expansive lexicon aided by a reliance on crosses. I struggled most with the upper middle portion of the puzzle where AIRBRUSH (6d [“Manipulate in Photoshop”) met TAOS in 5a [“___ Pueblo”].

Side note: TAOS Pueblo is a city in New Mexico, and it is “the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark,” according to the municipality’s website. Learning more about it was a really interesting trip into indigenous history in the U.S., and I definitely recommend checking out pictures of the adobe buildings that make up the Pueblo.

Structurally, I missed having some longer answers and felt contained by the short left and right middle sections that each contained where you can see FUSS (34a [“Ruckus”]) and LSAT (38a [“Aspiring lawyer’s exam”]) on the left and right sides of the puzzle respectively. I don’t mind three-letter series; in fact, during particularly challenging puzzles, I welcome the three letter combos as an energy booster. However, in this puzzle, I felt like these sections either needed to include more three letter clues or longer answers. They felt disconnected from the rest of the puzzle because the grid secluded them in the way that it did.

A few other clues that caught my eye include:

  • 23a [“Soup mix brand”] – I grew up eating KNORR dips and so took a long walk down memory lane as I filled this one in, not quite believing the combo of letters at first.
  • 57a [“Dot on a domino”] – A second stride through the ole memory banks brought up the infamous story of my dad’s best friend asking how many dots were on the six domino during game night. Thankfully, someone answered him before he went and counted PIP by PIP. Generally, I thought that this is a great fun fact to include, and I will work pip into my everyday vocabulary, especially for the next time I play dominos with my parents.
  • 69a [“#Give___AGirlfriend (Disney fan campaign)”] – A viral tweet called for Disney to give Frozen’s ELSA a girlfriend in Frozen 2. The first movie already saw the implication of Oaken, and so fans were ready to capitalize on a more LGBTQ+ friendly Disney. The debate on whether Elsa will ever explicitly have a female love interest rages on, especially with the introduction of Honeymaren in the second film, who some have already decided is Elsa’s significant other, canon or not (myself included).

I was definitely not feeling BLASE (20a [“Bored with it all”]) about this puzzle. It was a pleasing solve with, as I mentioned, a nice combination of clues that drew on a nice array of knowledge bases. That’s my SPIEL for today, folks! I hope that it’s not a stretch for y’all to meet each of your goals for this week (get it?).

Sebastian L. Iger’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Gr-r”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Phrases with words starting GR- have the G removed to wacky effect.

Universal crossword solution · “Gr-r” · Sebastian L. Iger · 7.25.21

  • 23a. [More out of reach than the coarse file?] BEYOND ONE’S RASP. Meh. I’m not a huge fan of “one’s” phrases in crosswords.
  • 32a. [Tirade against the government?] FEDERAL RANT. Solid, especially in this era of partisan rancor.
  • 35a. [Comment after taking a break from peeling an orange?] BACK TO THE RIND. Mostly I’ve heard the phrase as “back to the old grind,” but Google’s ngram viewer says I must be out of touch. Regardless, my distraction took me away from a humorous imagined scenario.
  • 53a. [Realtor’s remark during a tour?] HERE COMES THE ROOM. Meh again. Who would ever say this?
  • 63a. [Faster alternative to the Constitutional Convention?] INSTANT RATIFICATION. I like this one. How many common 13-letter words become completely different 12-letter words with the removal of the initial letter?
  • 75a. [Movie about a “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” heroine’s many nuances?] FIFTY SHADES OF REY. I don’t think we need the title of one specific film in the clue. It makes it too wordy, and the character appears in all three recent films.
  • 95a. [“What is flat yet frequently flipped?,” say?] PANCAKE RIDDLE.
  • 98a. [With 111-Across, comedy about a quest for an altar part?] MONTY PYTHON / AND THE HOLY RAIL. Meh, the third. That’s a lot of theme real estate for one so-so pun.

Hit and miss for me, mostly miss, though. The one’s that hit, didn’t strike me as particularly funny. I’ve tended to like most Universal puzzles I’ve done; this one just didn’t grab me.

The long fill hit-and-missed as well. Preposition-ended phrases are useful items in a constructors toolbox, but they often feel like missed opportunities, especially when they’re long like FROWNED AT. LHASA APSO just feels like extended crosswordese, and URETHANE (surfboard material) needed most of the crossings.

In other eyebrow-raising news, I’ve never heard the term SIDE POT, but then, I’m not a poker player. And “I’M BI” made me pause. I’m sure it’s been said before, but is it really a crossword-worthy phrase? I’M GAY is, sure, but I don’t think any other similar phrase has become part of the common vernacular. I guess the alternative in this spot (1d) is AMBO, old crosswordese for an old church pulpit, but that’s probably worse.

On the plus side, SHINNY UP is fun (though I wanted SHIMMY UP—turns out a lot of people mix these up), as is DOSSIERS, RANGETOP, “ME AGAIN,” CREOLES, HURDLER, “WOO-HOO!,” ULTRON, and OXNARD (used to live near there when I was a kid).

Clues of note:

  • 7a. [Sao Paulo’s country, in Sao Paulo]. BRASIL. My initial thought was, “Shouldn’t it be Brasilia, then?” Nope. That’s the city.
  • 83a. [83/83]. ONE. Why 83? I guess because that’s the clue number.
  • 4d. [Word before “ideal” or “trip”]. EGO. I’ve never heard the phrase “ego ideal” before. Per Freud, it’s “the inner image of oneself as one wants to become.”
  • 99d. [Instruments that rhyme with “kotos”]. OBOES. Weird clue. The two have nothing in common other than being musical instruments. The koto is a plucked string instrument and the national instrument of Japan.

I have mixed feelings on this one. I’ll mark it at 3.25 stars.

Emily Carroll’s Universal crossword, “Trade Fair”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: The letters M-E-E-T are substituted into common phrases (one at a time in that order) to create new wacky phrases.

Universal crossword solution · “Trade Fair” · Emily Carroll​ · Sun, 7.25.21


  • 18A [*Soldiers of fortune?] HAPPY SEALS. Happy Meals.
  • 24A [*Epic novels?] TALES OF WOW. Tales of woE
  • 55A [*Chicago Cub? BEAR BATTER. BeEr batter. 
  • 62A [*Steel wool component? SHEEP METAL SheeT metal. 
  • (revealer) SWAP / MEET

Very bizarre to see the revealer in 1-Across! And a long revealer at that. I was jarred by it and my brain didn’t immediately analyze the text, so I moved on and solved the puzzle, assuming that the theme would become apparent quickly. It didn’t. I stared at the grid for a while, refusing to go back and look at the clue for 1-Across, stubbornly insisting I would get it without the nudge. With tail between legs, I acknowledged defeat, then a forehead slap. So obvious and clever at the same time!

Really liked the base phrases and the resulting wackiness. The rest of the fill played just fine. Maybe a bit on the grandma-side imo… I never say SIT AT HOME when I’ve got a night to myself at my abode. That’s definitely something grammy says as she AMBULATES to and fro.

Shoutout to education in this puzzle too! B-SCHOOL! LESSON! ALUM!

Is TEE / T-BALL a dupe? Both T’s/TEE’s serve the same purpose. I didn’t notice it until just now. Curious, not critical of it.

3.1 stars.

Tony Caruso & C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Call Up”—Jim P’s review

Jim P. here belatedly filling in for Jenni.

Theme: FLIP PHONE (86d, [Motorola Razr, e.g., and a hint to each set of circles]). The other theme entries (in the Down direction) are familiar phrases that hide a word (going up) that can precede “phone.”

Los Angeles Times crossword solution · “Call Up” · Tony Caruso & C.C. Burnikel · Sun., 7.25.21

  • 3d. [Amusement park pickup areas] TRAM STOP. Smartphone.
  • 5d. [Cooper classic] THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Home phone.
  • 11d. [Striped walkways] ZEBRA CROSSINGS. Carphone. What was the lifespan of the carphone? Maybe just the ’80s?
  • 15d. [Sweet snacks on sticks] CANDY APPLES. Pay phone.
  • 21d. [“Absolutely!”] “THERE’S NO DOUBT ABOUT IT.” Batphone. Ha! Love this one.
  • 55d. [Best Actor role for Anthony Hopkins] HANNIBAL LECTER. Cell phone.
  • 71d. [“That’s not news to me”] “I’M WELL AWARE.” Wall phone. I love the entry, but do/have people ever use/used the phrase “wall phone”?

Fun entries, enjoyable theme.

Fill likes: STRAY CAT, Ric OCASEK, HOT LEAD, BURPEE, DOWN PAT, PAELLA, and CANTOPOP [Music genre big in China] even though I’ve never heard of it.

Fill eyebrow-raisers: HIT TO / SO AS TO / HEW TO and proper names LANI Guinier, Willie OREE, and Laura NYRO.

Solid puzzle. 3.5 stars.

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33 Responses to Sunday, July 25, 2021

  1. Gary R says:

    NYT: I’m going to guess that it’s I/X because if you superimpose an I on an X, you get something that looks sorta like a star.

    Seemed like there were a lot of entries that were unfamiliar to me, but crosses were fair.

    • Eric S says:

      According to Caitlin Lovinger’s column, that’s what’s going on.

      I didn’t see it while I was solving it.

      I thought it was an impressive debut, despite the few clunky entries that Amy mentioned.

    • pannonica says:

      Obviously we should have been using the Cyrillic letter zhe.

  2. PJ says:

    NYT – I’m always up for an astronomy puzzle. Like Amy, I learned a couple of things. Just a reminder that the stars shine in skies all over the world. I don’t know the names for these asterisms in east Asia. I imagine there are a few.

    The entries I liked the least are more of a me thing. In the SW, a mallard pair has always been a Suzie and Greenhead. The color of the drake’s head is a stunning green. I’m red-green color blind. When I see something as green, it’s goddam green.

  3. milo says:

    Surprised at the low ratings on NYT, I came on to give this a 5. I rarely do sundays but thought this was a really inventive theme – I liked learning each culture’s term for the dippers – and asterisks for stars made perfect sense to me.

    [Much of Goya’s output] for FRIJOLES made me laugh!

  4. AndyHat says:

    NYT: Another day when solving in print made a difference; the printed version had (faint) lines drawing the constellations. So once the X/I superposition as stars became visible, the locations of most of them were immediately obvious.

  5. FKD says:

    NYT: UGH!!! Another annoying puzzle. It took more time to suss out the rebus than to solve the whole puzzle. And the rebus entry wasn’t even consistent between Across Lite and the NYT app. I’m an astronomy buff, so I did appreciate all the references, but Ursa Minor was rather poorly drawn in the grid. A STAR IX = asterisk, I suppose. But it’s a stretch.

    • R says:

      What do you enter to complete on the app? I’ve tried X, XI, IX, and X/I and it’s still incomplete. I’ve spent more time trying to get the rebus right than it took to solve the puzzle. It’s un-effing-believable how crappy the app is for dealing with rebuses.

  6. JohnH says:

    I work in print, and on Sunday that means not a printout but the magazine. Here it proved a formidable and not at all pleasant obstacle. Excuse me for the time explaining.

    Print shows light tracings, which one might easily think is a bit of dirt and try to brush away. On a second glance, I recognized the Big Dipper, and clue references to celestial figures confirmed that. But how to proceed? Already a problem, in that entering a letter necessarily obliterated the design! Each fill was bound to take me further from the theme. It didn’t help that, with the tracings by no means going down the center of squares, it wasn’t at all obvious at times which square counts as a crossing.

    I resolved to circle the corresponding letters as I entered them. As you can imagine, that produced one heck of a lot of circles.

    Sometimes, I could see an X emerging in one direction (almost but not quite always in the down entry) but not the other. Could that be the theme? But it plainly didn’t happen all that often. I wasn’t seeing a pattern, and bear in mind that with my circles I couldn’t at all discern a difference between corners and changing directions in the pattern as opposed to other such entries. Nor was it clear that the X always crossed an I. After all, I had circled any number of other letters, too. I had no idea.

    I resolved to continue as I was going and to go back only at the end to see where the X’s fell. That might have been a big mistake. Not noticing the X / I meant that huge numbers of letters, potentially every single circle in my outsize superset of the actual themers, were effectively unchecked. When it came to proper nouns I didn’t know, and there were plenty, that was a monster of an obstacle. In the end, I couldn’t get the section with ISSA RAE, ILANA, ALTAI, and the unusually clued LANE. (Ok, now I get it.) It didn’t help either in getting the long themers, which, as in a step quote, can be gotten only and entirely with crossings except, I guess, for students of global mythology. Those I did get, but with nothing like an aha moment. No satisfaction, in fact, at all at any time, just hard work.

    Finally, I found a colored pencil and went to shade the X’s. That proved harder than I expected. I always face crossing outs for corrections along the way and my lousy handwriting. Here the sea of circles made it worse. I might have been looking at the entire puzzle as an inkblot. Didn’t help that I had I TINA without expecting an X. I’d never heard of XTINA and the alternative was at least kinda sorta recognizable. I got them all only from Amy’s list in the review.

    So the puzzle could hardly have been a more miserable experience. I see from raves that it went far better for others, and I ask online solvers not to complain if, say, a theme requires instructions. As a print solver, I sure got my come-uppance. Just awful.

    • JohnH says:

      And yeah, ENATIC wasn’t great. I had ENNATE, a misspelling, but at least of an obscure word I could take pride in knowing. ETEXT held me up, too. I tried EMAIL, a bit old-fashioned and clunky, but surely a word.

    • Mary Grisanti says:

      This was the worse puzzle I have ever attempted.

  7. Matthew S. says:

    Truly wish every NYT Sunday were half as successful as this one. Shame that everyone decided to pile on because of one piece of poor fill — this puzzle’s a masterpiece in my book.

    • Eric S says:

      I agree. This is the best NYT Sunday puzzle in the last month. I hate to think about how much work went into constructing it.

  8. Pamela Kelly says:

    I cannot believe the low ratings! This was a really good Sunday puzzle!

  9. Billy Boy says:

    IX = 9

    I don’t care enough to see if that relates in any way.

    I think the asterisk is shift + 8, but I don’t even want to look at a keyboard, I’m glad to erase this puppy. Count me in the low end of the opinions.

  10. Me says:

    LAT: Is “et APRES” an English phrase? It’s completely legitimate in French, but the clue doesn’t really indicate that. It would have been easy to put in a “, to Francois” or something like that if the answer is not in English.

  11. Bryan says:

    NYT: Count me among those who really loved this one! Thus far in 2021, I would consider this the best Sunday puzzle of the year. All the layers involved and learning the different folklore, and the construction feat itself to pull this all off so masterfully… I mean… wow. Really well done. And the whole grid itself kind of looks star-like… kind of, sort of, if you squint a little bit…

  12. Mr. Grumpy says:

    NYT: Intricate. Not fun. Thumbs down.

  13. Katie M. says:

    Jim Q – I agree with you 100% about the PACK clue. Thanks.

  14. Brenda Rose says:

    Captain Obvious should just die a natural death. The gimmick was dumb when it was invented & even dumber in this millennium.

    • Hi, I wrote an essay at the end of this blog post that explains why I make Captain Obvious puzzles as often* as I do, in part to answer people who’d demand I stop writing them. It’s personal to me, so no, I will not be killing him off any time soon.

      * he appears twice a year; that’s not that often.

      • David Steere says:

        Keep the Captain coming, Evan. Nice reminder to read…for the second time…your essay/explanation. Whenever the Captain appears, I think of Merl Reagle’s humor–nice!


  15. e.a. says:

    something i found really pleasing about the universal was how all four theme clues were things unto themselves. like, a lot of times with these letter change themes, the clue(r) has to do a lot of work to set up the answer (which isn’t necessarily bad, it can be really fun/funny), but these just felt so natural and elegant

  16. Christopher Morse says:

    NYT – if you superimpose an ‘X’ and an ‘I’ you get a ‘*’, which is a star (and works for solving in the NYT crossword app, no rebus required). And it’s consistent with the X for the down clue and the I for the across. The kind of theme that causes a head scratch at first, but once you get it, it helps solve the other themers, which I love. I found it delightful. (also really enjoyed learning about different culture’s interpretations of the dippers)

  17. Shlomit says:

    @amy – The reason X and I are in the same box is because the overlay of X and I forms the shape of a star (a big asterisk * ).

    Hence they are the stars that form the constellations.

  18. Mary A says:

    I’ve taught high school United States literature for 30 years. When studying mid-nineteenth century literature, I always included lessons on Negro Spirituals, including “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd.” To learn more, read here:

  19. NKN says:

    Kudos to those of you who saw the combo of X & I as an *… I usually figure out that kind of graphic!
    But, there’s one other possibility (&, Will Shortz did say it’s “multi-layered”): XI is the 14th letter of Greek alphabet, *and* in astronomy, is the label used for “the 14th star of a constellation”. And there do happen to be 14 “stars” in the two Dippers…

  20. Emily McAuliffe says:

    Just got to 7/25 NYT last night. (Always paper for Sunday, always in ink.) It was a rage-solveuntil the very end when the X/I as asterisk clicked into place for me and I moved to grudging admiration for the multiple layers at work here. Completely agree with the write-up on those two monstrously clunky entries: Enatic and Etext.

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