Sunday, September 5, 2021

LAT 14:48 (Gareth, 1 ERROR) 


NYT 12:35 (Amy) 


Universal 4:12 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:16 (Jim P) 


USA Today 4:29 (Darby) 


WaPo 12:10 (Jim Q) 


Grant Thackray’s New York Times crossword, “Go Up in Smoke”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 5 21, “Go Up in Smoke”

The theme revealer in this plus-sized 22×21 puzzle is 50a. [With 97-Across, emerge reborn … or what the ends of five Across answers in this puzzle do?], RISE FROM / THE ASHES. The other themers take a bend upwards into the grid, and their ending letters from A on can be switched to ASH to make a different, unclued answer:

  • 31a. [Like gasoline nowadays], UNLEADED. The straight continuation is UNLEASH, and the upwards bend is DEDA down, unclued because it’s meaningless in that direction.
  • 33a. [30-year host of late-night TV], JOHNNY CARSON with a side of JOHNNY CASH.
  • 74a. [Addiction treatment locale], REHAB CENTER, with a side of REHASH browns. (My god, I need to make hash browns and have leftovers to call rehash browns the next day.)
  • 111a. [Be completely candid], TALKS STRAIGHT, with TALKS TRASH.
  • 114a. [Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw], HOGWARTS HOUSE, side of HOGWASH.

Great theme, though it’s maybe too easy if you give away the mechanism in the theme revealer clue. I do like that the theme pairs contains plenty of lively entries. I’m always gonna like seeing HOGWASH or JOHNNY CASH in a puzzle, for example.

The constraints on the grid with the angled entries mean a lot of locked-down space, which typically means subpar fill. Having CRYER next to CRIER felt inelegant, and the ACT AS/plural AHS start to the puzzle put a bad taste in my mouth. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen 66a. [Some U.N. officers, for short], SGS. Secretaries general? SORER, bleh. There were just things that bugged me scattered throughout. I might’ve not noticed them if the opening corner had been great instead, you know? Sets the tone.

5d. [Something close to a colonel’s heart?], SILENT L. I need a linguist to weigh in on whether we call that a silent L when there’s an R sound there instead.

41d. [___ Minella (Muppet)], SAL. Oh! Did not know this. Delightful. My grandparents were friends with a couple named Sam and Della, and I never didn’t hear that as “salmonella.” Don’t eat over at their place!

AT ONE’S ELBOW? Uh, I guess. Doesn’t ring a bell.

Dinner is here, gotta go. Four stars for the theme, three for the fill.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “CC Me”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Every themed answer in this puzzle includes a first and last name and each name begins with C, making their initials CC. The double letter combo refers to the (e)mail practice of carbon copying someone so that they receive a duplicate of the correspondence.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's "CC Me" USA Today crossword solution for 9/5/2021

Zhouqin Burnikel’s “CC Me” USA Today crossword solution for 9/5/2021

20a [“Supermodel with a trademark mole”] CINDY CRAWFORD
37a [“First woman to co-anchor CBS Evening News] CONNIE CHUNG
55a [“Tony winning for ‘Hello Dolly!’”] CAROL CHANNING

This theme was clean and easy to fill in, keeping my solve time for USA Today right around its usual. Once I got through the clues for CINDY CRAWFORD and CONNIE CHUNG, I knew that I was looking for C.C. names. There was also the nice bonus of 37d [“Tough task for a telemarketer”], which is the alliterative hint for COLD CALL. It not only played off of the first C for CONNIE CHUNG, but it also offered a fourth non-name C.C.

Grid-wise, the top right and bottom left corners were easy to fill on the Acrosses, so I didn’t even see the Down clues for them until I started working on my review. I thought that the upper left and bottom right sections were clued well and a nice balance to the shorter words in their opposite corners.

Other Answers:

  • 17d [“‘Absentia’ actress Katic”] – I loved STANA Katic in Castle on ABC, and, in addition to playing Emily on Absentia, she was also an executive producer on 10 episodes.
  • 2d [“Tempt”] & 34d [“Make loveable”] – We got two longer words with en- prefixes in ENTICE and ENDEAR respectively. I liked this dual since I felt like their clues were relatively similar but spaced nicely that the crosses could help navigate those differences.
  • 5d [“Symbol on the Somali flag”] – The five points on STAR on the Somali flag each represent an AREA (18a [“Vicinity”]) traditionally viewed as a homeland by a Somali ethnic group. The blue and white were influenced by the United Nations (UN) flag and the coat of arms of the country when it was controlled by Italy. The flag was first flown on October 12, 1954 and became official on June 26, 1960, according to Britannica.

Overall, this was a smooth solve HELPED (43a [“Gave assistance”]) by its clever cluing and fun theme.

Leonard Williams’s Universal crossword, “Escape Room”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: The word ROOM is missing from common phrases, resulting in wackiness.

Universal crossword solution · “Escape Room” · Leonard Williams· Sun, 9.5.21


  • [Tennis parody on “SNL”?] COURT DRAMA. Courtroom Drama. 
  • 23A [Celebrating after scoring a touchdown?] BALL DANCING. Ballroom Dancing. 
  • 51A [Italian rice dish whose texture is wrong?] MUSH RISOTTO. Mushroom Risotto. 
  • 63A [Certain parent, educationally speaking?] HOME TEACHER. Homeroom Teacher. 

Fun idea, especially with a great title revealer. Some of the resulting wacky answers should be a bit further removed from the base phrases. For instance, HOME TEACHER and HOMEROOM TEACHER are pretty close in the sense that both are teachers. MUSHROOM RISOTTO and MUSH RISOTTO are still both Italian rice dishes (I’d also add that RISOTTO is, indeed, somewhat mushy). BALL DANCING is… weird. I guess my mind is in the gutter?

So while I like the idea, the entries don’t excite me all that much.

Other Things:

  • 48D [Major event, with “the”] BIG ONE. Huh? I’ve never described an event like that. Is this regional?
  • 22A [Razor product that’s kid-friendly] SCOOTER. Great clue! With Razor being the first word in the clue, the brand’s capital letter is hidden.
  • 24D [Burton of “Reading Rainbow”] LEVAR. Really like his Jeopardy appearance.
  • 47A [Popular red wine, for short] CAB. Clued correctly as red wine this time. Last time I solved a Universal with this entry, it was clued as white.

Not my favorite, but still a fun solve.

3 stars.

Pam Klawitter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Strictly Speaking”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar prepositional phrases are re-imagined literally.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Strictly Speaking” · Pam Klawitter · 9.5.21

  • 23a. [Actors usually write reminders ___] BETWEEN THE LINES.
  • 45a. [Some digits in a decimal are ___] BESIDE THE POINT.
  • 70a. [X-rays give the doctor ___] INSIDE INFORMATION. Hmm. This one doesn’t feel the same as the others. Ah, I know what it is: INSIDE is used as an adjective here.
  • 98a. [An intruder who hides in the ceiling vent is ___] ABOVE SUSPICION. I suppose.
  • 122a. [One who shuns bread products is ___] AGAINST THE GRAIN. Good one.
  • 15d. [Avid readers keep their glasses ___] BY THE BOOK. Also good.
  • 81d. [The Chicago Board of Trade Building is ___] IN THE LOOP. My favorite of the lot, I think. The Loop being Chicago’s downtown area.

I liked these for the most part, especially as the puzzle went along. They definitely seemed stronger at the end. Too bad about INSIDE INFORMATION. It would have been nicer if another similar entry was used. It seems like there are plenty of alternative prepositions to turn to: on, off, over, under, below. How about [When U2 plays leapfrog, Bono jumps ___] OVER THE EDGE?

Enough silliness. There isn’t much in the grid in the way of long sparkly fill, no doubt because we have a fair amount of theme entries including some in the Down direction. We do have TIRED OUT and SENATORS as well as OPEN LATE and ISOTOPES. Nothing to scowl about, and that’s no small feat in a Sunday-sized grid.

Clues of note:

  • 66a. [Al Roker’s network]. NBC. I just saw that Al Roker’s predecessor, Willard Scott, passed away. I was just going to link to a remembrance that Al Roker gave, but it’s so good, I’ll embed it below. Definitely some must-see TV.
  • 79a. [Fighting it out]. AT WAR. This is much too close to [Having a spat]. AT IT. The latter could also mean “working hard,” so that clue probably should have been changed.
  • 6d. [December’s Nick at night]. SANTA. Cute.
  • 95d. [Bridge statistic]. SPAN. Got me with this. I was thinking the card game the whole time.
  • 117d. [Chemistry test?]. DATE. That is, to see if the people involved have “chemistry.” Nice clue.

Enjoyable theme. Fill is clean but not necessarily sparkly. 3.7 stars.

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

An Atkins friendly puzzle today.

THEME: First letter of foods is deleted and clued wackily. The collective missing letters, in Birnholzian fashion, spell a revealer of sorts.

Washington Post, September 5 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Cutting Carbs” solution grid


  • 23A [Cut of meat from Mork’s home planet?] ORK ROAST. PORK ROAST. 
  • 30A [Treats baked by a classic auto company?] REO COOKIES. OREO COOKIES. 
  • 36A [Treats baked by a classic auto company?] ART CHERRY. TART CHERRY. 
  • 55A [Greeting to a group of seared fish dishes?] “HI, TUNA STEAKS!” AHI TUNA STEAKS. 
  • 69A [Actor Tom providing cuts of holiday bird?] HANKS GIVING TURKEY. THANKSGIVING TURKEY. 
  • 84A [Poultry served in the mountains?] RANGE CHICKEN. ORANGE CHICKEN. 
  • 100A [Dairy product from a hydroelectric facility?] DAM CHEESE. EDAM CHEESE. 
  • 107A [Fast-food sandwiches grilled by actress Grier?] PAM BURGERS. SPAM BURGERS. 
  • 120A [Carb-rich side that may be cut, and what’s spelled out by the letters cut from the starts of this puzzle’s foods] POTATOES

Remarkably tight, yet seemingly simple puzzle today. I don’t think I fully appreciated that all the theme entries were foods until near the end of the solve. Not sure how I missed that, but that’s a lot more fun than lopping the first letter off of any old phrase.

I did have a sense from the first entry that those missing letters would spell something (because Birnholz). That gimmick (wrong word… gimmick sounds tacky, but the correct word is eluding me) never fails to enhance the puzzle. Tried to guess it but once I figured out the first three letters (POT), my mind was thinking it had something to do with cookware.

Struggled in the middle east of the puzzle. Could not for the life of me do anything with the clue [Joint seen while wearing flip-flops] with AN?LE. Ran the alphabet twice. Poorly, obviously. A big forehead slapper as my mind never considered another definition of “joint.” Great clue. Couldn’t see DOSE or TANKED for a while either. Just a big f***in’ brainfart for me.

Favorite themer = HANKS GIVING TURKEY. It’s a delightful visual, and let’s face it… who doesn’t want Tom HANKS at your dinner table on Thanksgiving?

New for me:

ARI Lennox, ISIAH Whitlock Jr., DOOHAN, and TOSSER. 

Eye roll clue of the day: [Animal with pants?] DOG. Yes, dogs pant.

A very apropos vid to end today’s post:

Brad Wiegmann’s LA Times crossword, “Parting Company” – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The title of today’s puzzle, “Parting Company”, is rather inscrutable. What I can see is there are circles in 8 theme entries that spell out JMBARRIE. In addition, those 8 entries each contain one half of four Neverland characters (none of the Darlings are included). The first and last entries, PETERjennings and flashinthePAN, form PETERPAN; two and seven are CAPTAINamerica and gettingtheHOOK; five and three are TINKERtoys and sleighBELL; six and four are TIGERteams and easterLILY.

About a third of my solving time was occupied finishing off the area below SKIIN. Not sure I’ve seen that before. Between names I wasn’t sure of, especially their spellings: STAGG (stang?), KIMMEL, INES (z?), and RIAN (not a Y?); opaque clues for INNATE, AMNESIA and LEAD and a phrase ___INGTHEHOOK that seemed like it could be any of many things stymied me for some time. However, my mistake was GTA/ASTO. Guess I don’t know my abbrs./Latin well enough!


    • [Novel category], ROMANCE. Romance was once a synonym for novel.
    • [Yankee quipper?], BERRA. I don’t see the need for a question mark. The clue is meant to sound like Yankee Clipper, but it isn’t actual word play per se.
    • I’d have thought ICICLE/ICEPACK wouldn’t be a Kosher crossing…
    • [Brown shade], UMBER. I went through TAUPE and OCHER first…
    • [Old dagger], SNEE. Haven’t seen you in a while!


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19 Responses to Sunday, September 5, 2021

  1. Sarah O says:

    I briefly (somehow) had “soft rugs” for 48down and I was disgusted and couldn’t wait to see what Amy had to say about it but then it turned out to be “shag rugs” which is fine.

  2. Philippe says:

    What was very misleading: the first word ‘rising’ is arson, which can be tied to the theme. Unfortunately, this is the only one.

    • Gary R says:

      Yeah – that was the first themer I got (after jumping all around the grid in confusion over the unclued entries), and I was expecting to find fire-related words in the “rising” parts of the other themers. After I gave up on that, I never did go back and examine the theme more closely, so I didn’t see the “ashes” until I read Amy’s writeup.

      Most challenging cluing I’ve seen on a Sunday in quite a while. Kept my interest – unusual on a Sunday – and overall, a fun puzzle.

  3. JohnH says:

    I agree with Any: fine theme, just ok fill. It didn’t take long to guess that the unclued down entries meant words turning north. We’d seen that theme before (sometimes with then continuing across). When the resulting across entries became meaningful, that was nice. When they all ended the same, even better. With a revealer, a theme-packed puzzle for sure.

    That often means forced or just plain awful fill. This wasn’t that bad. I get my knowledge of this from puzzles and not from life, so I started with Estee rather than ESSIE, SGS did look rather weird, and I was disappointed to find not one but two Harry Potter clues, one in a long theme entry at that. But it’s Shortz’s obsession, so it’ll have to do.

  4. MattF says:

    Liked the NYT… except for the crossing of GTI and ESSIE, which I guessed wrong. A mild ‘Harry Potter’ vibe— appropriate since the movie series has just reappeared on HBO Max.

  5. RM Camp says:

    I liked the NYT theme, I had inklings as to what was going on but didn’t quite get the trick right away. But boy-yo did I hate that fill. AT ONE’S ELBOW?! What the hell? I was confounded for *wayyyy* too long thinking it was STONE’S THROW, which is entirely more plausible, and then -BOW crosses with BOW? Zuh? CRYER next to CRIER looked weird too, so I was hesitant to use the latter. There were others but my head is swimming. I’ll chalk that up to the new antidepressant but this didn’t help.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be so cranky.

  6. Mary A says:

    There were some clever clues in today’s NYT: “Leadoff selections?” for ERASERS; “Pot grower’s remark” for “I RAISE”; and “Present-day saint?” for “ NICHOLAS.” And, though I have never watched “How I Met Your Mother”, I figured out “BRO CODE”. Despite the sexist implications of the phrase, I like the clue. The rest were just okay, and, in my opinion, the theme was not “smokin’”.

  7. DianeW says:

    I thought this puzzle was quite charming. For me, visually, the “ash” answers all looked like a cigarette going across to the right, with the “ash” at the end and the rest of the answer wisping up like smoke. I also I liked the fact that they all spelled something else going straight across–clever! And “I raise” for “Pot grower’s remark” (43D) was a great double-entendre.

  8. LAT:

    Extremely frustrating to encounter a body-shaming clue like [Too big for one’s own good]. It should be obvious in the year 2021 that stigmatizing people for their weight is bad.

    • Pilgrim says:

      Well, I am OBESE, and this clue made me smile. “Too big for one’s own good” fits me to a tee, and this clue actually got me thinking that I have to start exercising more.

      I didn’t feel “shamed” or “stigmatized” in the least.

      I can’t claim to be the arbiter of what is obvious in the year 2021, but I imagine that there are lots of OBESE folks who know they need to lose weight and are looking for positive reinforcements wherever they find them. “Too big for one’s own good” (at least to me) is one such positive reinforcement in a humorous crossword clue that seems directed to my situation.

      • I am glad that the clue did not give you a negative reaction. But the clue struck me as just another example of pathologizing people in the (completely arbitrary) BMI range over 25 as though they’re undesirable and need to be ashamed of themselves, like telling them “Your body is wrong.” I say that as someone who has fit the clinical definition of overweight for most of my life and has struggled to lose weight for my entire adulthood.

        This long 2018 article from HuffPost did quite a lot to inform me of how I think about weight and obesity and body-shaming now. A really eye-opening statistic mentioned in that article: In one study, 89% of adults considered obese report having been stigmatized by their romantic partners for their weight.

        • Jim Q says:

          I agree with you. OBESE does seem to be fairly popular crossword fill though. I’m wondering how to clue it without a negative connotation, or if you think it doesn’t need to be in word lists. I don’t recall seeing it very often in your grids, and I’ve certainly never seen anything that can be misconstrued as “pathologizing” in the WaPo (or anything Birnholz related).

          • Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for that. I have used the answer OBESE in the past, and I used to clue it in reference to historical figures and fictional characters (like William Howard Taft and Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons”). But I’m not a fan of those previous clues of mine, and nowadays I just don’t include it in puzzles anymore because of how easy it is to use it a negative way. I know several others have dropped it from their word lists for similar reasons.

            For what it’s worth, I did see this suggestion on Twitter: [Oft-misinterpreted BMI range that does not necessarily have any direct correlation with an individual’s overall health]. I can sorta appreciate that this turns the judgmental aspect of that word around by criticizing the society that imposes body-shaming standards rather than individuals for their weight. But really, it’s just easier for me to avoid the answer OBESE so I don’t have to deal with cluing it.

            • * use it IN a negative way …

            • Jim Q says:

              Yet we celebrate (in crosswords and otherwise) so many animated television shows like “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “South Park,” etc. (it really is a never ending list) where a reference to obesity would be a “softball.” Why is it not okay to *attempt* to take a light-hearted approach to the word in crossworld? Again, I agree with you, but I have trouble coming to grips with this, especially since I do enjoy all of the aforementioned shows on occasion.

  9. MaryS says:

    I questioned LAW in both 37A & 77A.

  10. David Stone says:

    NYT was very disappointing for the ARSON reason already mentioned and for fill like AT ONES ELBOW, which is probably the worst full I’ve ever seen. Things like LDRS didn’t help. I usually like Grant’s puzzles.

  11. Jonathan Warshay says:

    I give demerits to puzzles which have answers which add the letter a to a word to create words not generally used. This puzzle has two: aroar and arear. I understand how hard it is to create a puzzle, but these are out of bounds in my view.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Yes, I dislike AREAR and AROAR, too. These just aren’t words we use in real life.

      Hilariously, a few months ago, Will had AROAR as one of the answers to an NPR Sunday puzzle, and boy, the contestant was not into that word. (Or EDGED as a sportsy verb, or HATHA yoga.)

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