Sunday, October 17, 2021

LAT not timed(Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal 3:16 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today untimed (Darby) 


WaPo Grid 13:26 Meta 1 = 15 minutes Meta 2 = 15 minutes later than Meta 1 (Jim Q) 


Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Common Core”—Nate’s write-up

Nate here, taking a break from grading lab reports to check out a different education-related topic: “Common Core”…

NYT Sunday Puzzle 10.17.21

NYT Sunday Puzzle 10.17.21

23A: ROGETS THESAURUS [Meaningful work?]
– Common core: HITS THE SAUCE [Starts drinking]

36A: PATRON OF THE ARTS [Ballet supporter, e.g.]
– Common core: SOFT HEARTED [Compassionate]

63A: THERE IN SPIRIT [Present without being present]
– Common core: AWE INSPIRING [Truly magnificent]

87A: CHARTERED PLANES [Ritzy transports]
– Common core: THE RED PLANET [Nickname for Mars]

106A: BOA CONSTRICTORS [You wouldn’t want them to have a crush on you]
– Common core: BACON STRIPS [Breakfast side dish]

I don’t know that I’ve seen a theme like this, and I enjoyed it! Each themer shares a long letter string with the shaded, diagonal entry that runs through it. I appreciate that this puzzle scratched the cryptic itch in my brain – I love finding phrases that are related in unexpected ways like this. Hilariously, I didn’t even see the set of Diagonals clues at the end of the clue bank (in the on-paper version) until I went to review this puzzle! Hopefully, you saw them (there or in the Notes section). But how cool is it to have squares in the grid that are triple-checked – no excuse for not being able to eventually suss those out!

Most of the theme entries / common cores were fun and vibrant, many with humorous or intriguing clues (my favorite themer clue was certainly the one for BOA CONSTRICTOR), though I’ll admit I got a bit squeamish at HITS THE SAUCE, knowing so many folks in my life who struggle with alcohol dependency. I at least appreciate that that entry didn’t get a winky/pun-ny clue.

Something I appreciated about this puzzle were the bits of fill that could have been clued in myriad ways, but were clued in ways that acknowledged people, experiences, traditions, or realities of folks outside the cis straight white male sphere. It’s not that cluing this way is better (or that experiences outside that sphere are), but making more people feel seen and their experiences feel valid by being referenced in THE crossword of note does matter. Some examples from this puzzle:

Jimmy Woo of "WandaVision"'s FBI

Jimmy Woo of “WandaVision”‘s FBI

– Cluing FBI via [Govt. agency that Jimmy Woo works for on “WandaVision”] and IMAGE via [N.A.A.C.P. ___ Awards] – both matter-of-factly reference non-white people/culture in a way that says, “this is important/culturally-relevant knowledge, too.”
– Similarly [Sit shiva, e.g.] for MOURN clues the fill in a way that gives a nod to Jewish traditions. The clue doesn’t have to do that, but I’m glad it does.
– Love seeing [She/___] for HER as a common pronoun cluing method these days. Cluing HER like this might invite the conversation about pronouns to someone who doesn’t understand why they’re important or doesn’t have to think about it on a daily basis. It’s also a great mirror for folks for whom pronouns are a daily, fundamentally important identifier.

That’s all from me for now – let me know in the comments section what you enjoyed about the puzzle!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Multiple Choice Test”— Jim Q’s write-up

A Meta with two answers! Hoo boy. Let’s get to it.

THEME: ???? Theme clues are all multiple choice though….

Washington Post, October 17 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Multiple Choice Test” solution grid


  • 21A [What did Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi design in 1983? A) Honda Logo | B) Magnetron | C) “Mario Bros.” | D) Tokyo Dome] MARIO BROS
  • 33A [What is the subject of the film “The Song Remains the Same”? A) Bette Midler | B) Led Zeppelin | C) OneRepublic | D) Electronica] LED ZEPPELIN
  • 51A [Complete this quote by Sarah Churchwell: “There is nothing that ___ can’t teach you, if you let it.” A) “Sesame Street” | B) Anthropology | C) The Holy Bible | D) The New Yorker] SESAME STREET
  • 66A [What is another term for a bit of strong language (seven of which in the puzzle will help you solve one of the meta answers)? A) Figure of speech | B) Five-dollar word | C) Four-letter word | D) Four-word phrase] FOUR LETTER WORD
  • 83A [Which fictional character holds a PhD from Oxford University? A) Indiana Jones | B) Black Panther | C) Dr. John Watson | D) Green Lantern] BLACK PANTHER
  • 97A [“In the Rough With Phil Mickelson” ads marketed what drink? A) Mountain Dew | B) Irish coffee | C) Pinot grigio | D) Amstel Light] AMSTEL LIGHT
  • 116A [Where is the Orange Vélodrome located? A) Barcelona | B) Rotterdam | C) Amsterdam | D) Marseille] MARSEILLE

Well, I’m gonna try solving the meta on the fly right now since I just finished solving the grid right now (Sunday morning) and I should probably get a post up soon. I did notice a coupla things, so here’s to hoping I have an inkling of an idea.

The first thing I noticed after entering BEER for Heineken product was I entered AMSTEL LIGHT shortly after. The reason I noticed that is because I thought to myself “Could be AMSTEL LIGHT too!” as the answer for Heineken product, since Heineken makes AMSTEL. Then I remembered the central clue: [What is another term for a bit of strong language (seven of which in the puzzle will help you solve one of the meta answers)? A) Figure of speech | B) Five-dollar word | C) Four-letter word | D) Four-word phrase]. 

And BEER is certainly a four letter word. Let’s see if that can get us going.

MARIO BROS. is a… GAME! (1-Down)

LED ZEPPELIN is a BAND. (23-Across) Oh yeah, this is definitely going somewhere.

SESAME STREET is a SHOW (43-Across).

FOUR LETTER WORD is a… hmmm… OATH? The clue for OATH is [“Damn,” e.g.] Let’s come back to this one.

BLACK PANTHER is a HERO (69-Down).

AMSTEL LIGHT is a BEER (71-Down).

MARSEILLE is a CITY (101-Across).

Now what? First letters don’t seem to do much. Very strange that the clues themselves are worded like questions. Almost has a Jeopardy! feel to it. Makes it extremely easy to fill in the correct answer. Also, what to do with the incorrect answers if anything?

I’m also now noticing SLEUTH and INDY are in there… and that sounds like Dr. John Watson and Indiana Jones, two of the wrong answers for one of the questions.

What if we line up the four letter words above and look at the corresponding letters to where the answer for each of the initial multiple choice words were found? Let’s give it a shot.

GAME (Mario Bros was the 3rd choice, so let’s highlight the 3rd letter).

BAND (Led Zeppelin = 2nd choice)

SHOW (1st)… so far so good… I like where this is going.


HERO (2nd)

BEER (4th)

CITY (4th)

MASTERY! Hey that’s something! So… I’m guessing that’s one of the meta answers.

Before I move on to the other, I want to give a shout out to the mention of the obscure song Big-ASS Rock from the (fantastic) musical The Full Monty. A lot of solvers are unlikely to know it, but here’s to hoping a few will now give it a listen. It’s a comical song about three down-on-their-luck friends contemplating suicide, and it includes one of my all-time favorite lyrics “I’ll buy you a beer with a Drano chaser…” 

Alright, I’ve stalled long enough. No idea where to start in finding the other meta answer.

I’m going to post what I have and perhaps update it after I let it marinate for a few moments.


Wait a second… maybe it’s not a completely different method to find the second answer. That doesn’t sound like it would lend itself to a tight idea, and the WaPo is always tight. Instead let’s try the same exact thing that we just did to get MASTERY but with the original answers themselves:








Look at that! RESULTS!

RESULTS and MASTERY … two outcomes of some tests.

That was awesome. And so very extremely satisfying. An excellent *click*

As always, extremely impressive concept and execution by Evan.

Gary Larson’s Universal crossword, “Heads and Tails”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Both parts of a two-word phrase can follow the word BACK.

Universal crossword solution · “Heads and Tails” · Gary Larson · Sun., 10.18.21


  • STORY BOARD. Backstory, Backboard. 
  • COURT DATE. Backcourt, Backdate. 
  • FIELD HAND. Backfield, Backhand. 
  • (revealer) BACK TO BACK. 

As far as a “words that can precede/follow” theme, this one is pretty excellent. Mostly because the revealer gives it an extra kick, in that the words that can follow BACK are indeed BACK TO BACK. Nice!

I’m not so familiar with Backcourt and Backfield. Sports terms? Unsure.

My favorite misreading of a clue:

[Drivers may hold them]  instead of the correct [Divers may hold them]. I was going much faster than usual and got hung up here. It’s possible I would’ve completed in under 3 minutes if I hadn’t screwed that up!

Oh wait… just now noticing I missed a themer! It’s an entry that I filled in without looking at the clue.

SPIN OFF. Backspin. Back off!


Thanks, Gary!

4 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword “Say Again”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Every themed answer repeats it’s “SEE” sound to “say again,” with the S in “say” hinting that it will be an S-driven sound. 

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword "Say Again" solution for 10/17/2021

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword “Say Again” solution for 10/17/2021

  • 16a [“Singer with the record label PureSprings Gospel”] CECE WINANS
  • 35a [“Alternatives to tinted moisturizers”] CC CREAMS
  • 60a [“Blues song first recorded by Ma Rainey”] SEE SEE RIDER

This was a fun theme. I appreciated that the S in the puzzle’s title alluded to the sound in the theme answers. It was also clever that each once used a different variation to elicit that sound, especially since it was at the start of each answer. I know this is to avoid using the same word over and over, but I thought it executed nicely. 

A lot of long answers in this grid, particularly on the right side of the puzzle. I thought that the southeast corner in particular had some good ones, with 42d [“Bitter rants”] TIRADES, 43d [“Plain to see”] EVIDENT, and 44d [“Hits the road”] DEPARTS making for a nice sequence of seven-letter answers. SCAM ALERT was also a solid nine-letter answer clued as 31d [“Fraud warning”], and I thought that MIC STANDS was also clued pretty accurately as 3d [“Props for emcees”]

A few other notes:

  • 18a [“UFC fighter Holly”] – This clue referring to Holly HOLM paired nicely with 22a [“UFC’s fighter’s quest”] TITLE. UFC in both clues is the acronym for Ultimate Fighting Championship.
  • 67a [“Budae-jigae and nikujaga, e.g.] – These two STEWS sounded pretty apt for this chilly October day. Budae-jigae is also known as “Army stew” because it uses American style processed food like spam, sausages, canned baked beans, and sliced cheese. Nikujaga on the other hand is a meat and potato stew cooking in a dashi broth with some vegetables.
  • 49d [“Ready for a nap”] – I’m definitely TIRED this Sunday morning, and I really wanted to stay in BED (33a [“Place for a nap”]) but alas, I have work to do!

Overall, 10d [“‘Nice work!’”] GOOD JOB on this grid! I enjoyed a lot of the longer answers and the theme was well-composed. 

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Horoscope Column”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Certain astrological signs are given a horoscope reading using an idiomatic expression related to that sign.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Horoscope Column” · Paul Coulter · 10.17.21

  • 3d. [VIRGO: Spending time at sea will make you happy, so buy that new boat and ___] GO ON A MAIDEN VOYAGE.
  • 8d. [CANCER: Today could be irritating, so you may well ___] ACT LIKE A CRAB.
  • 13d. [LEO: A little greed is good today, so don’t be afraid to ___] CLAIM THE LION‘S SHARE.
  • 26d. [PISCES: Some praise would lift you up, so say something self-deprecating and ___] FISH FOR COMPLIMENTS.
  • 36d. [ARIES: You need to be heard, so speak your mind and ___] RAM HOME THE MESSAGE.
  • 64d. [LIBRA: You have a big decision to make, so think of a factor that helps you ___] TIP THE SCALES.

Pretty nice, yeah? Not sure about RAM HOME THE MESSAGE. “Ram home the point” seems more common to me.  Also, I can’t expect that there would really be twelve full-length entries, but it seems odd to only have six horoscopes. Maybe there will be a Part II next Sunday? Let’s see…what’s missing, and what are some potential theme answers.

      • Gemini: Twins: IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
      • Scorpio: Scorpion: TAKE THE STING OUT OF {something}
      • Sagittarius: Archer: BE A STRAIGHT ARROW
      • Capricorn: Horned goat/ Sea-goat: DON’T BE A SCAPEGOAT (meh)
      • Aquarius: Water-carrier: DON’T MUDDY THE WATERS

Oh, and why are the entries in the vertical direction? My guess is that since the title is “Horoscope Column,” and columns are vertical…there you are.

A full load of theme material means less long fill, but we still get the likes of HASTA LUEGO, TOPPLE OVER, and TIME STAMPS. Not super sparkly, but plenty solid.

Clues of note:

  • 27a. [Chasten Buttigieg’s husband]. PETE. I didn’t know PETE Buttigieg’s husband’s name. I thought the word was a verb in the clue and I half-expected there to be question mark at the end.
  • 79d. [Bob Cratchit’s “tiny” son]. TIM. While living in England one year, the children across the country dressed up as literary characters for World Book Day. Since she had just broken her ankle and was on crutches, my daughter went to school as Tiny TIM. She looked great and she even got her picture on the BBC website. However, when I had my elderly neighbour try to guess who she was, he couldn’t, despite every hint I could give him. That’s when I learned A Christmas Carol, is not as popularly known in the UK as it is in the States.

3.75 stars.

Robert E. Lee Morris’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

The theme in today’s puzzle will most likely be an after-solve solve for most people as it is quite buried. “Scrapper’s delight” is a clever title, but we get a second, more revealing, revealer at the end: (RE)CYCLED METAL. I added circles to help pinpoint where in the answers to look; without those it is quite easy to miss the concealed words. Amidst mostly fairly prosaic two-part answers, there are nine metals anagrammed between the parts. I appreciated that all the metals chosen are elemental.

An outlier in terms of familiarity in the theme answers was PANICZONE, concealing ZINC. The song did not chart and the album it’s from isn’t as well known as the follow up. That said it was nice to have two thematic references to Hip Hop music in a puzzle.


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28 Responses to Sunday, October 17, 2021

  1. Eric S says:

    The clues in the info button did make sense of the shaded squares, and I used them to fill in a few squares. But mostly, it was just annoying that I couldn’t see those clues. And I think the theme slowed me down some, in that I missed seeing a lot of Across clues that were total gimmes.

    But thanks, Nate, for mentioning how often the clues were given a spin that wasn’t a straight white male perspective. I hadn’t noticed that.

    Not the hardest Sunday puzzle I’ve done, but not my favorite, either. More an impressive bit of construction than something fun for solvers.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: I really liked it. I find the classic Sunday puzzle to be a slog, especially if it attempts to be punny/funny and falls flat. I also like it when people manage to be creative in a traditional context. This puzzle pulled this off beautifully. While it was undoubtedly a feat of construction, it flowed well, was actually a bit easier than average, because the diagonal clues for the common core helped. So, as a solver I didn’t have to pay for the “look, Ma, I did it” factor. Very nice!
    I did have to go chasing an error at the end: I had entered GOOSE in lieu of MOOSE (Canada geese…). A shadow of yesterday’s COOL/GOOD mixup.

  3. Gary R says:

    NYT: Like most of Jeff Chen’s puzzles, I enjoyed this one. It was a faster solve for me than the typical Sunday, but that might be because I didn’t keep stopping to decide whether I really wanted to continue the slog. It helped that there were only two unfamiliar names – TESSIE Santiago and Ming-Na WEN. And the theme phrases were all familiar.

    I see IT NOW instead of I GET IT NOW slowed me down a bit, as did spelling Meghan TRAINOR’s name with an “e.”

    I have a nit to pick with 85-D. I don’t think SPF “guards against UVB.” Sunscreen guards against UVB, or some component of sun screen does, but SPF is a measure of how well your sun screen does its job. I went with ZnO (zinc oxide) first.

  4. JohnH says:

    I was awfully unobservant. I didn’t even notice the extra clues at the end of the print puzzle in the magazine. (They’re hard to miss, in a box leading at the top , in the print puzzle I’d get online sometimes, since I have only weekends delivered.) So I kept at the fill the usual way, while trying to think what the shaded entries had in common other than their shape and overlap with long entries. One clue sounded like a revealer (for the two entries ONE and ACROSS), but of course not.

    No one to blame but myself, I’m afraid! Ouch.

    I wouldn’t call the puzzle a special pleasure other than a show of the constructors skill with such long triple-checked sequences. But we’ve had a lot worse. There were names I didn’t know (like TESSIE and TRAINOR), but totally fair crossings.

  5. Jim Quinlan says:

    I’m not understanding the average of 1.5 stars on the WaPo after 6 ratings so far. I’m wondering if that’s solely because people didn’t get the meta? Or don’t like metas? Or found the multiple choice part too easy? It was, in my opinion, an excellent meta (if somewhat difficult) and a fun-to-solve grid. Would any of the low-raters care to chime in?

    • Mr. Grumpy says:

      I thought having the correct answer in the clue was stupid, even though it’s part of the meta. Annoyed me to the nth degree.

    • Thanks Jim, I appreciate the support, but as I keep saying here: The. Star. Ratings. Are. Meaningless. Yet people still pretend like they actually matter.

      I get that the meta may have been hard but I’m happy with how it turned out.

      • Mark says:

        Can you elaborate on why you find the star ratings meaningless? I personally take the time to think about these puzzles post mortem and give a rating based on my own experience. Isn’t that feedback valuable?

        • The long version of my reply is here. The TL;DR version is this:

          1. There’s no agreed-upon criteria about what a 5-star vs. 4-star vs. 3.5-star vs. whatever-star puzzle actually is.
          2. Different people prioritize different things about a puzzle: Its theme if it has one, its fill, its meta if it has one, its clues, its difficulty, etc. How is a constructor supposed to get any valuable feedback on all of that from a star rating?
          3. The ratings get biased and skewed in ways that people don’t consider. There are solvers who’ve admitted on here that they never rate Monday-easy puzzles above 3 stars. Others have said they’ll only rate puzzles either 5 stars if they finish the puzzle in their normal time, 1 star if they don’t. And of course you’ll get solvers who think things like rebus puzzles or puzzles with letters outside the grid or tough metas should never be considered acceptable and rate the puzzle accordingly.
          4. People who drop 1-star ratings almost *never* explain why they do. It’s just largely a convenient way to trash a puzzle without having to say why they did.

          So no, even if you’re individually putting a lot of thought into how you would rate a puzzle, I’m afraid the star ratings are not valuable feedback. But the worst thing isn’t that the star ratings are meaningless; it’s that there are solvers who actually use them to determine which puzzles they should solve. A handful of cranks dropping 1-star ratings therefore end up dissuading others from solving a puzzle that they might enjoy. That’s what the star rating system encourages.

  6. MattF says:

    Saw the ‘diagonal’ clues in the NYT Notes and doubted they’d be helpful. But I was wrong— solving the SW corner was eased with the one diagonal clue that remained after doing the rest of the puzzle conventionally. So, a better puzzle than I’d thought. That said, putting important clues in Notes should be avoided, IMO.

  7. David L says:

    WaPo: I found the answers in the puzzle that corresponded to the correct multiple choice answers — GAME, BAND, OATH, SHOW, HERO, BEER, CITY — but got stuck at that point. No idea what the next step was meant to be.

    As for the second meta, I figured it must be something connected with the multiple choice answers that were not used in the grid — otherwise, why include them? I noticed INDY for INDIANA JONES, IDIOM for FIGUREOFSPEECH, and SLEUTH for DRJOHNWATSON — and then got no further with that. It seemed impossible that these were just coincidences, but apparently they were.

    So I guess I don’t understand the ‘multiple choice’ aspect of the puzzle. What was the point of including all those incorrect answers if they had no relevance to solving either of the two metas?

    (PS I’m not responsible for the low ratings of this puzzle, since I never give star ratings. But I did find it frustrating.)

  8. Josh Miner says:

    I don’t understand the NYT puzzle. Other than the diagonal entries being present, what’s the point? I solved the puzzle without noticing the diagonal clues (the entries were easy enough as common phrases) and started looking for the “theme” with no luck. Even after reading the write up here I still don’t understand how everything relates. It’s just showing off, construction-wise? “Look! I can make long across entries that are also long kind of diagonalish entries, too! (As long as I use a bunch of short down fill.)” Meh.

  9. John O says:

    Here’s what I consistently like about Evan Birnholz’s puzzles. I’m hardly an expert solver, so there was very little chance that I was going to be able to figure out either meta today. But I still found the puzzle to be a fair fill, and I enjoyed completing it, as I usually do.

    On a separate note, I appreciate this site for explaining all the metas every Sunday. None of you get paid enough!

  10. NonnieL says:

    USA Today puzzle is meta. Isn’t “C.C.” Ms. Burnikel’s nickname?

  11. Mark Abe says:

    NYT: Loved and enjoyed it
    LAT 115A: NO NO NO, Tarzan is NOT an “Apeman”. He is a man raised by apes!

    • p merrell says:

      Although a couple of film titles say otherwise: “Tarzan the Ape Man” with Johnny Weissmuller in 1932 and “Tarzan, the Ape Man” with Bo Derek in 1981.”

  12. Lucy Texel says:

    Gareth missed a metal in the LA Times puzzle. The concealed word in 29A DEADLAST is LEAD.

    • Pilgrim says:

      never mind – my eyesight is bad

      • Chris Wooding says:

        And the circles are misplaced on “talking doll” – I was amused that “DONG” was the only word I could get as shown. Move the circles one to the right and get “GOLD”

  13. Ellen Nichols says:

    Great Sunday NYT. Very smooth solve. I didn’t even need the diagonal clues – didn’t see them in the corner.

  14. TPS says:

    The LAT second reveal was weak. It would have been fine if the hidden metals were spelled out but mixing them up made the solve an hour longer than it should have and added no value to the initial solve. Played more like a meta.

  15. but the common core ones did not see like common cores? what is common core about hitting the sauce- or the others? unrelated! so what gives-any one can help? dave and on fac e book

    • Gary R says:


      It’s just that the “core” (middle part) of the answer is “common” to both the Across and the Diagonal entry, where they overlap.

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