Sunday, August 15, 2021

LAT 9:47 (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 7:56 (Darby) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Aimee Lucido & Ella Dershowitz’s New York Times crossword, “Think Twice”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 8 15 21, “Think Twice”

The theme revealer for this “Think Twice” puzzle is 69a. [Betray … or a hint to four answers in this puzzle], DOUBLE-CROSS. The other themers have TWO in a Down answer crossing a phrase with ONE, TWO, THREE, or FOUR in it, and you need to multiply those numbers to get a legit phrase:

  • 27a. [Duplicitous], ONE-FACED crossing a TWO in Margaret ATWOOD. If you’re duplicitous, you’re TWO-FACED.
  • 52a. [#$%& and @%¢!], TWO-LETTER WORDS crossing AT WORST, yielding FOUR-LETTER WORDS.
  • 85a. [Pushing up daisies], THREE FEET UNDER crossing “IT WORKS!” for SIX FEET UNDER.
  • 113a. [What the beleaguered are behind], FOUR BALL crossing “JUST … WOW” for the EIGHT BALL.

You might think, “Well, this theme really needs to have five or six of these, because four feels a little light.” But ONE, THREE, and FOUR all contain a letter from TWO, so FIVE, SIX, and SEVEN won’t work. You could do EIGHT and TEN for phrases with SIXTEEN and TWENTY in them, but I do like the elegance of the 1-2-3-4 sequence. I also love the idiomatic nature of the theme phrases, and that the contemporary “just … wow” is included.

Overall, the fill is super-smooth and modern. Highlights in my book: LOLZ, LOUDMOUTH, NIBLET (paging Sam Ezersky: add this to the Spelling Bee word list!), K-POP, STONE SOUP, POP A WHEELIE (the verb pop is distinct from popular in K-pop, I’m OK with the overlap here), SNEEZE, DRINK IN the beauty, WRITE-OFFS, “DON’T ASK,” and TUMMIES. Lots of flavor, lots of Aimee and Ella’s voices.

Five more things:

  • 30a. [___ dress], PROM. I like the cluing angle here.
  • 9d. [Star man?], ZAGAT. I really wanted SAGAN here off the -AGA-. You know what? The Zagat Guide uses (used?) numeric ratings, not star ratings. Their longtime approach (from several owners ago, anyway) was to rate the food, service, and decor on a scale where 30 was the very best. Is there some other angle I’m missing here, some other ZAGAT with stars? Did some iteration of the Zagat Guide use star ratings?
  • 44d. [Wednesday, but not Friday], ADDAMS. As in the Addams Family character, Wednesday Addams.
  • 68a. [Word in many font names], SANS. Meaning sans serif. Please, I beg you: Keep your Comic Sans away from me!
  • 78d. [High-quality cannabis, in slang], ENDO. Hey! I think I learned this one from crosswords.

Four stars from me.

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

Had a good feeling I had the theme figured out by the title before jumping into this one. Had another good feeling that there would be a Birnholzian layer to put a cherry on top. Right on both accounts!

THEME: Songs can be found backwards in common phrases.

Washington Post, August 815 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Backtrack” solution grid


  • MYRTLES. Try by Pink.
  • TIES UP.  Use It by the New Pornographers.
  • SOIREE. Rio by Duran Duran.
  • SEMITONES. No Time by the Guess Who.
  • GRAVEN IMAGE. Mine by Taylor Swift.
  • GEICO GECKO. Ego by Beyoncé.
  • GENOA. One by U2.
  • DEVIANT. Naive by the Kooks.
  • EVIDENT. Dive by Ed Sheeran.
  • LIVED. Evil by Interpol.
  • LAMINATING. Animal by Def Leppard.
  • PETRI DISHESDirt by Florida Georgia Line.
  • PHEROMONE. More by Usher.
  • MCBAIN. ABC by the Jackson 5.
  • REMAND. Name by the Goo Goo Dolls.
  • (birnholzian layer) [Band whose song “Revolution 9,” when played backward, supposedly contained the message spelled out by the first letters of this puzzle’s songs] BEATLES. 

Those letters in that quasi-revealer spell out PAUL IS DEAD, of course. Wait… what? They don’t? They spell out TURN ME ON, DEAD MANWell, that’s the first I’m hearing that! Looks like I’m not the only one who has been misled.

I mean, wow. It is very easy (for me) to hear that phrase repeated over and over again in that song:

Anyway, the puzzle. There’s like a bajillion themers there! Or sixteen. Something like that. And it’s quite the feat to pull off. I’m not sure if anyone other than Brendan Emmett Quigley would know all of these songs. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past pannonica, one of the bloggers for this site. She is a human music encyclopedia. I betcha she knows all of ’em. I won’t divulge just how many titles I was unfamiliar with, but suffice it to say it was more than a few. Some of the bands were foreign to me too for that matter. I’m no music buff… not even close. And I recognize the irony there as I am leaving 30 minutes from the time I am writing this in order to play a regular four-hour piano gig.

Finding words backwards- especially longer ones- in common phrases in order to create a grid is no easy task though. Especially with the added constraint of needing the first letters to spell out that infamous backwards message. GRAVEN IMAGE was new for me, but I think that’s about it. Oh, I don’t know how to spell PHEROMONE. Thought that first O was an E and accepted (E)GLALA as the tribe name. Found that typo after a relatively quick scan though.

Some tougher-than-usual fill was a likely result of so many themers. But a decent payoff. I won’t be forgetting this puzzle anytime soon, and I’m glad the record is set straight (pun intended) with those of us who falsely thought the hidden phrase used Paul McCartney’s name.

Enjoy Sunday!


Pam Klawitter’s Universal crossword, “Finding That Niche Job”— Jim Q’s write-up

Quick write-up today! Gotta go on a little cycling jaunt for a couple days.

THEME: Phrases reimagined as if they’re jobs.

Universal crossword solution · “Finding That Niche Job” · Pam Klawitter · Sun, 8.15.21


  • [Specialized role at a school of wizardry?] SPELL CHECKER. 
  • [Specialized role at a coalpit?] MINE SWEEPER. 
  • [Specialized role at a tent factory?] STAKE HOLDER. 
  • [Specialized role at a sweet shop?] CANDY STRIPER. 

As far as phrases-are-now-jobs puzzles go, this one is spot on. The jobs are niche indeed, and hilarious visuals are the result. CANDY STRIPER is my fave. On another note, anyone else notice just how many phrasees-are-now-jobs puzzzle themes there are? Doesn’t bother me… just seems odd.

Loved the fun fact for UTAH[State whose official snack is Jell-O].

4 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Break Ground”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Every answer splits up the letters in “DIRT” between the beginning and end of the phrase.

Theme Answers:

  • 16a [“Collarbone-baring top”] – DEEP V-NECK T-SHIRT
  • 38a [“Local trial venue”] – DISTRICT COURT
  • 61a [“Disastrous situation”] – DIRE PREDICAMENT

It’s interesting that “DIRT” is broken up differently in each theme answer. DISTRICT COURT was my favorite of the themed answers. I would like to see DEEP V-NECK T-SHIRT return in more puzzles because I think that there are a lot of opportunities for creative cluing. As for DIRE PREDICAMENT, I usually hear “dire circumstances” as the most common equivalent to this, but I know that this fits the theme.

The four 8-letter clues, PRICE WAR, IRRITANT, DERISIVE, and IRON GRIP were all good ones. Save for IRRITANT and half of IRON GRIP, I had to catch a few of these after getting some of the crosses first. Plus, with IRRITANT clued as 10d [“Inflammation-causing substance such as pollen”], it wasn’t too much of a repeat with 6d [“Something you might scratch]’s ITCH.

Other clues:

  • 20a [“Not so fast”] – This is out second WHOA in a row, as “Woah” appeared yesterday in the USA Today crossword.
  • 41a [“Where a baby eagle is hatched”] – I definitely have heard AERIE in this context before but never put two and two together as for the spelling of the word (and now the connection with American Eagle). The American Eagle Foundation also hosts live streams of Eagle nests on their website, if you’re interested.
  • 7d [“The P in OP, in tea leaf grading”] – I loved learning more about tea grading as a result of this puzzle. Orange PEKOE (the OP of the clue) is a full-leaf tea versus just PEKOE (P), which refers to tea picked as 2 leaves and a bud. There are six other varieties of black tea grades, as well as green tea grades. You can learn more about those here as you brew your morning cup.
  • 41d [“Program launched with a tap”] – The rhyming in this answer was on point. I loved the APP/tap combo.
  • 54d [“Noodles in a bowl or a cup”] – Despite the hot weather, I’ve been craving RAMEN, so this, along with OMELET in 2d [“Tamagoyaki, for example”] elicited a stomach growl this morning.

A slower Sunday for me, with a few hiccups, but it’s always good to keep my EGO in check. I definitely had a few AAHS when I finally realized what 52d [“Optical phenomenon in the desert] was (I really wanted MIRAGE to be “oasis” for some reason, even though it didn’t fit) and when I finished 34a [“Stage remarks meant for audiences] to get ASIDES. Overall, it was solid solve and start to my Sunday!

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

Rock/pop band names are found hidden inside familiar phrases. In a sense, each phrase BREAKS UP THE BAND (120a, [Upsets many music fans, and a hint to the starred answers’ indicated letters]) by splitting the band name apart as parts of separate words. Ironically, the one person (maybe unfairly) blamed for one of the biggest band breakups in music history—and regular crossword entry—Yoko ONO, does not appear in this grid (though RINGO does).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Split Decision” · Zhouqin Burnikel · 8.15.21

  • 21a. [*”That does it!”] “NO MORE MR. NICE GUY!” R.E.M. What a fun entry!
  • 50a. [*Clementine and tangelo] CITRUS HYBRIDS. Rush.
  • 70a. [*Major transit system in China] SHANGHAI METRO. Haim. I had to re-check all the crossers on this one since I’d never heard of this pop band consisting of three sisters. Note that two of the sisters have very crossword-friendly names (Este and Alana).
  • 88a. [*Had concerns about] TOOK ISSUE WITH. Kiss.
  • 14d. [*Hypocritical admonition from a parent] “DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO.” Oasis. What a great find: a five-letter band name spread across four separate words.
  • 39d. [*Museum donors, e.g.] PATRON OF THE ARTS. Heart.

Works well enough, yeah? I’ll admit that I tend to look at it the other way; the puzzle doesn’t “break up the band,” but actually puts it together by removing spaces and identifying it with circled letters. But I take the puzzle’s meaning, that is, when not in a puzzle, these phrases “break up” a band name by adding spaces.


Clues of note:

  • 17a. [___ gobi (curry dish)]. ALOO. ALOO means potatoes, gobi means cauliflower.
  • 20a. [Like palazzo pants]. LOOSE. I can’t see the word “palazzo” without thinking of legendary opera singer Enrico Pallazzo.
  • 66a. [What’s often taken out for a ride?]. AUTO LOAN. Good misdirection on this one.
  • 87a. [Allen of “Game of Thrones”]. ALFIE. He played Theon Greyjoy / Reek. If you’ve seen the first John Wick film, he was in that too, as the spoiled, cocky son of a Russian mobster.
  • 41d. [Late actress Rivera]. NAYA. I never watched Glee, so I didn’t know the name, but ugh, what a sad, sad story. Warning: it’s sad.
  • 121d. [Door opener]. KEY. Well, technically, the KEY just unlocks it.

Solid hidden word theme and equally solid fill. 3.5 stars.

Dylan Schiff’s LA Times crossword, “Just Desserts” – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s LA Times Sunday by Dylan Schiff has a rather vague title: “Just Desserts”. It turns out that’s because it has a second revealing piece at the end: LAYERCAKES. I think of cakes more as something served as a snack with tea than pudding, but perhaps it’s different over there?

An unusual feature of the puzzle is that some times the cakes are in front sometimes at the end. What is consistent is the pairs are of even length and lie atop one another. The top pairs are ezraPOUND and beanANGEL; sportySPICE and radioOPERA; and SHORTstack and LEMONsole. I’ve never heard of an opera cake, but googling it suggests it’s rather decadent. The bottom pairs are modern funSPONGE and macnCHEESE; YELLOWtail and BANANAsplit; and then SHEETrock and LAYERcake itself. I’ve also never heard of a yellow cake; it seems to be a regional term for a sponge cake, but I was imagining something from a urinal…

Notable entries:

  • [Of course, in Cannes], BIENSUR is a hefty chunk of French!
  • [’50s TV innovation], CABLE. How many of us tried to make COLOR work?
  • [“Push It” hip-hop trio], SALTNPEPA. Neat entry. The three members? Salt, Pepa and… DJ Spinderella!
  • [Long-distance swimmer Diana], NYAD. Tricky surname!
  • [Has a mediocre round … for a pro], SHOOTSPAR. Depends. the US Open field when it was held at Shinnecock Hills might disagree with that assessment!


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21 Responses to Sunday, August 15, 2021

  1. Sarah says:

    As soon as I got the Z for star man, I became certain that the answer was OBVIOUSLY “Ziggy.”
    Boy did that hold me back for a long time.

  2. John A says:

    You prompt me to ask Sam E to include “affine” on his SB list.

  3. JohnH says:

    My first thought was that the shaded squares fell nowhere special, while the themers seemed at first to do the same in a different way, by not corresponding to the long entries except, well, when they do. I kept hunting for ways in which a themer’s adjacent long entry might play into it. Eventually, the symmetric placement of the five (counting the revealer) became clear, and I liked the puzzle more.

    If only the long-entry biking maneuver didn’t have a cluing (which I didn’t care that much for anyway) requiring its question mark. That and the length seemed for ages to make it necessarily a themer in some way. Oh, well. The rest of the fill was tough and, for me, not always fair, but ok. Not a great puzzle, but there’s been worse. And yeah, ZAGAT was my last to fall because it seemed so wrong.

  4. R Cook says:

    I think most 90s teens learned ENDO from “Gin and Juice”. Strange that it came in handy.

  5. pannonica says:

    WaPo: “I betcha she knows all of ’em.”

    Nah, not even close. In fact, I didn’t even know of one of the performers, let alone all the songs!

  6. David L says:

    I had an error in the NYT: LULZ/UPI instead of LOLZ/OPI. I guess OPI is a more plausible brand name, but I thought LULZ was the sarcastic version of LOLZ.

    Just me?

    I found it a tricky puzzle in other places. No idea about ENDO, though fortunately I knew JINN. But I’m having trouble understanding STINT as ‘Job to do,’ so I was not at all sure I’d got that section right. Also ROLL call before ROBO, LIPS as the makeup target before LASH. Those were easy to correct, tho.

  7. David L says:

    Has anyone been able to find today’s variety puzzles? I usually print them out from the website but they are still the ones from last week, Aug 8.

  8. Byron says:

    Ditto on SAGAN before ZAGAT. Also, Tim and Nina ZAGAT were co-founders of the guide, so there was a bit of erasure in the clue as well.

  9. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT: Since Amy asked, I found this in a 2018 article at …

    “While under Google ownership, Zagat also changed its ratings system. For more than 35 years, the Zagat guides asked their survey participants to rate restaurants on a scale between one and three across four categories. The scores were averaged and multiplied by 10 to produce the published rating of up to 30. But in 2016, Zagat switched to a system that scores restaurants on a scale of one to five stars. Zagat converted all of its ratings to the new star system, which was easy enough to comprehend. A restaurant previously rated 29 points for food and 28 points for decor would now have 4.9 stars for food and 4.8 stars for decor, respectively.”

    So, blame Google.

    • Gary L says:

      I hadn’t seen Zagat guides/ratings in a number of years, but learned some things as a result of the discussion here:

      – Zagat ratings are/were based on surveys of restaurant customers, so sort of an early version of yelp.

      – Zagat is pronounced zuh-GAT – I always thought it was ZAG-ut.

      – They are apparently trying to reboot the business. Their web site says they currently only have rating for Miami-area restaurants, but are intending to expand. It seems to be slow going – of the first 50 restaurants they have listed, only six actually have a rating. The rest say they haven’t received enough responses to issue a rating.

      – On the web site, they have gone back to scores on a 10-point scale – no more stars.

  10. sanfranman59 says:

    WaPo: Wow. This was one of the most enjoyable, smoothest and impressive Sunday-size puzzles I’ve done in a long time. First off, it’s got a Beatles theme. Heck, just a single Beatles-related reference is enough to put a puzzle in my good graces. I picked up early on that there were words running backward in the themers, but I didn’t realize they were song titles when I entered the first one (MYRTLES {21A: Fragrant shrubs (Pink)}). I’m only really aware of purple/lilac-colored myrtle flowers (aka periwinkle), but I figured there might also be pink myrtle (INDEED, there is). I had no idea why Pink was capitalized if it was simply referring to the color, but SEMITONES {38A: Musical intervals also known as half steps (the Guess Who)} soon set me straight.

    Then, Evan goes one step further and actually has the first letters of the song titles spell out “turn me on, dead man”? Again, I say, “wow”. Although I consider my knowledge of Beatles trivia to be rather deep, I don’t think I ever knew that that’s phrase you hear when you play “Revolution 9” in reverse. Like Jim Q, I thought it was just “Paul is dead”. So, this puzzle wasn’t only a blast to solve, it educated me about a topic that I know a lot about. Plus, I don’t recall turning up my nose to a single clue/answer combination. Bravo Evan!

    • Gary R says:

      I was also impressed with the construction effort. I knew almost all of the artists, but fewer than half of the song titles (mostly the ones that would be considered “oldies”).

      I had never heard of the hidden phrase in “Revolution 9.” But I do seem to recall the phrase “I buried Paul” being (perhaps) audible at the end of a song (“Strawberry Fields?”), and that if you played part of “A Day in the Life” backwards, you could hear the car crash that supposedly killed Paul. Very creepy stuff back when I was 10 or 12 years old.

      • PJ says:

        The end of “I’m So Tired” played backwards – Paul is dead. Miss him. miss him.

        The cover of Abbey Road. We did some crazy stuff in the 70’s.

  11. marciem says:

    LAT: Gareth… yellow cake is like white cake only… yellow ;D . In white cake recipes only the egg whites are used, in yellow cakes the yolks are also used to help give it that color.

    They are nothing like sponge cakes at all (except for the color, which is indeed usually yellowish), which are somewhat heavy… white and yellow (and regular chocolate) cakes are light and fluffy and moist.

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