Chase Dittrich and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword, “Come Again?”—Nate’s write-up
Remember March 2020 when the world seemed to shut down? How is it already December 2021, almost into 2022? Wow! Here’s hoping that you and yours are doing well, are staying safe, and have gotten vaccinated if you can. Let’s all keep doing our part to protect those in our communities who aren’t able to get vaccinated!
Today’s Sunday NYT comes from the teamwork of Chase Dittrich and Jeff Chen, whose theme entries can’t seem to say anything just once…
24A: NEVER ENDING STORY […FLOOR FLOOR FLOOR…]
32A: BEARS REPEATING […GRIZZLY GRIZZLY GRIZZLY…]
45A: PERPETUAL MOTION […PROPOSAL PROPOSAL PROPOSAL…]
72A: AD INFINITUM […COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL COMMERCIAL…]
97A: RECURRING DREAMS […AMBITION AMBITION AMBITION…]
106A: NONSTOP FLIGHTS […STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS…]
115A: CONTINUITY OF CARE […CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION…]
I liked this theme and, largely, how it was executed! Each theme entry phrase is reimagined as a descriptor of saying the same one word over and over and over again. My favorite executions of this idea were certainly AD INFINITUM and BEARS REPEATING. The syntax of the clue for NEVER ENDING STORY didn’t quite work for me, and that theme entry idea seemed too similar to NONSTOP FLIGHTS to have both in the puzzle. Even still, I liked how there was a wide variety of in-the-language phrases amongst the theme entries and that they didn’t just use the same phrasing format each time. (Side note: Is the grid shape of brackets made of black squares tied into the theme? Mathematicians and others – what do you think?)
43A: DRAG [What some kings and queens dress in] – I’m always excited to see LGBTQ+ representation in the NYT puzzle!
52A: FARMS [Click ___ (artificial increasers of website hits)] – I also enjoy seeing modern concepts as a way to freshly clue words like this.
74A crossing 59D: KERR [Steve with eight N.B.A. championship rings] crossing AYRES [Lew ___, portrayer of Dr. Kildare] was a toughie for me!
12D: SON [Family member inaptly found in “ladies only”] – The strictly and binarily gendered nature of this clue didn’t sit well with me. Many families have sons who are, in fact, ladies. Toss “inaptly” from the clue and let’s talk.
38D: GAY [Like some apparel, in song] – I will only accept this if it’s rainbow and fabulous. :)
58D: CARMEN [Sandiego not usually found in San Diego] – I loved this clue, though I’ll acknowledge it’s squarely in my wheelhouse / age demographic to know this!
94D: NON [Prefix with binary] – Yes, yes, yes. Nice clue! Though I laughed out loud at NON-binary being right next to BRO CODE.
How was this puzzle for you? What did you enjoy about it? Let us know in the comments section below. In the meantime, be well!
Paul Coulter’s Universal Crossword, “Left AND Right”— Jim Q’s write-up
Welcome to the Paul Coulter Crossword (formally Universal)
11 of the last 22 puzzles in Universal are Paul’s. Sometimes the Universal picks a month to celebrate women constructors. Sometimes it’s a month to celebrate underrepresented constructors. And sometimes, it’s a month to celebrate Paul Coulter!
THEME: The ends and beginnings of two words in a row make a common _____ & ______ phrase.
- ANEMONE / ALLUDED. One and All.
- BIOCHEM / HAWKEYE. Hem and Haw.
- DONAHUE / CRYSTAL. Hue and Cry.
- IT’S OPEN / IN KNOTS. Pen and Ink.
I typically like Paul’s puzzles. You can almost always count on clean fill and a clear consistent theme. Perfect fit for Universal (as evidenced by just how prolific he has been).
While I didn’t particularly care for this one, there is still a lot of impressive stuff here. Puzzles with this sort of theme are extremely difficult to fill. While it might seem as though there isn’t much more theme in comparison with other 15x puzzles, there are indeed 8 theme answers. Not 4. So impressive job with this.
My biggest nit, which is a constant complaint of mine and has nothing to do with the puzzle itself or its construction, is that this is a puzzle that is circle dependent. And Universal is unable to feature circles in its grids anywhere outside of downloading a .puz file from this site. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to assume that the overwhelming majority of Universal’s solvers are unlikely to know what you mean if you asked “Do you solve in Across Lite?” In a puzzle like this, it really needs the circles to do it justice. Literally every time I’ve introduced a new solver to Universal when they were running a circle dependent theme (which is quite often), the theme has completely eluded the solver, and they found the directions frustrating. That’s unfair. And offering a different “improved” version at this site seems to be a direct acknowledgement that the one offered to the masses is subpar. Mind-boggling from the puzzle that, per its website, “…sets the standard for all daily crosswords.”
I guess I’m done HEMming and HAWing about that for the day.
Other than that, the puzzle was fine. Maybe the fill felt a little dated at times. I’M A MAC is a reference to a pretty dated commercial, NOON DAY SUN sounds very quaint, like something I expect to hear out of Grandpa’s mouth as he recounts a story from his childhood. And Phil DONAHUE… is he still on TV? I haven’t thought about him in ages. HUE & CRY feels rather old as well. Makes me visualize the Elizabethan Era.
Fun clue for [It’s found in “apartments”]. ART. And loved the grammar wink in [Is for adults or children?] ARE. As both “adults” and “children” are plural, they would require the verb “are” over “is.”
I hope my complaints about this one don’t overshadow the respect I have for Paul and his work.
3 stars with circles.
1 star without.
Gary Larson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “In the Middle Of”—Jim P’s review
The title’s a little awkward, but it’s to be read literally. The word OF is inserted into the middle of well-known phrases and common words to create new, crossword-wacky phrases. In each case, the O ends one word and the F starts a new word.
- 23a. [Look for guidance in the works of Aesop?] TURN TO FABLES. Turntables. I was sour on this entry at first because I thought this was playing off the phrase “turn the tables.”
- 45a. [Overhaul an almanac?] REDO FACTS. Redacts.
- 63a. [Rough-and-ready nun?] TWO-FISTED SISTER. Twisted Sister. Good one. “Peace be with YOU!” Pow! “And also with YOU!” Bam!
- 90a. [Seismology concern around a Nevada gambling city?] RENO FAULT. Renault.
- 111a. [Fashion group that’s into vintage clothing?] RETRO FACTION. Retraction.
- 11d. [Big commotion about a ’70s dance fad?] DISCO FUSS. Discuss.
- 16d. [Barrier around a barbecue area?] PATIO FENCE. Patience.
- 71d. [“Farewell, you pesky little insect!”?] “CHEERIO, FLY!” Cheerily. Another good one.
- 79d. [Keen on plants with fronds?] INTO FERNS. Interns.
At first, I didn’t realize these were based on actual words and phrases and it felt too random. Once I looked closer and had my aha moment, I was satisfied with the wordplay. Some work better than others, as is often the case, but on the whole, these work for me.
I’m impressed with the consistency here and the added constraint of splitting the O and F. The theme doesn’t just add OF to existing phrases, but adds the letters in such a way to make two words from one. That seems like a much higher bar to reach for. For example, changing PIG STIES to PIG SOFTIES wouldn’t work with this theme. But oh hey, this one would work, but it’s way too long: IT’S ALWAYS SO FUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.
There’s a lot of nice fill as well: “TIME TO GO,” FRUIT CUP, ASHTRAYS, TORONTO, DOOZIES, CRONUTS, SMURFS, MARSHAL, ALGEBRA, A PRIORI, and MOONSET.
Not much to gripe over either. The clues are on the straightforward side as is common in the Universal Sunday.
There was a lot of attention to detail in this theme, so even if each entry isn’t individually humorous, I’m impressed with the overall effort. And the fill is quite nice. Four stars.
Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Job Fare”— Jim Q’s write-up
Something fruity about this puzzle…
THEME: Fruits are hidden in jobs
- MEDICAL JOURNALIST. Melon.
- BANK MANAGER. Banana,
- DEFENSE ATTORNEY. Date.
- APP DEVELOPER. Apple (appropriately enough).
- DEEP SEA DIVER. Pear.
- GRAPHIC DESIGNER. Grapes
- VIOLIN MAKER. Lime.
Something a little more standard to day. Over-the-plate and easy to grok thematically, but rather challenging in the fill. Despite the plethora of things I didn’t know, I still solved fairly steadily from North to South, really a testament to the construction when you can still complete a puzzle despite not knowing a lot of the trivia.
It did feel a bit heavy on proper names in comparison to more recent offerings. For me, some difficult areas were John SUNUNU (needed every cross and still wasn’t confident in it), NOAH Cyrus, HUBERT, RETTA [One-named comedian on “Good Girls”] (also, I read that as “Golden Girls,” so that didn’t help, the novel “Eleanor & Park,” ALI Fazal, AGNES Moorehead, SIVA, the Chi-Lites, HANA, Justin LIN, Mike REISS.
Fun Stuff / Fun Facts:
Congrats to the sexy PAUL Rudd! [Rudd named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine in 2021]
[Pour choice?] EWER. Fantastic eye roll.
Not quite sure I understand the pun behind [Three of clubs?] for TRIO.
Flaming MOE’S was the temporary name of… I’m assuming Moe’s Tavern on The Simpsons?
[Landlocked state with the island city Sabula] IOWA. Who knew?
Not a huge fan of the vague ONE’S pronoun in entries, as it appears in the revealer, but I can COPE.
Themes like this are harder than they seem to find viable entries for. Nice work on Evan’s part finding interesting phrases to fit.
Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Age Group”—Darby’s write-up
Edited by Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is a person’s name that includes letters spelling out AGE in the middle.
- 17a [“Model whose mother is Cindy Crawford”] KAIA GERBER
- 36a [“Director of ‘Little Women’”] GRETA GERWIG
- 59a [“‘Still Alice’ author”] LISA GENOVA
I had no idea for KAIA GERBER and LISA GENOVA, though Still Alice made the latter feel more familiar. I got GRETA GERWIG on the first go, and it immediately made the theme apparent. I appreciated that, with this grid, since it’s titled “Age Group,” that we have three humans together in a “group” whose names happen to include AGE. I feel like someone should tell them.
This grid is asymmetrical, and I didn’t love the two sets of three-letter clues above and below GRETA GERWIG. Their clues were solid; it was more that the big set of black squares in the middle left and the Utah set in the middle right made me feel trapped in the middle of the grid. On the other hand, I enjoyed that, once you made it past that portion of the puzzle, there was this much more open lower half.
- 1a [“Kabuki’s structure contains five of them”] – This was a nice educational kick off to the puzzle. I filled in ACTS pretty quickly and moved on, but it stuck with me for the rest of the grid. The five-act structure come the story’s traditional rising and then falling arc. You can read more about it here.
- 15a [“Capital city where tsampa is eaten daily”] – Tsampa is roast barley made into a flour, and it is a staple of Tibetan food. LHASA is the capital of Tibet.
- 47a [“Activity that might have a music round”] – Sometimes puzzles feel like I’m doing TRIVIA, so I’ll be waiting for the music round (which I will not be great at, just as with quiz nights).
Overall, I moved through this puzzle quickly. The theme was helpful in filling in the center letters, especially since I only knew one of the three named themers. My feeling of getting stuck in the middle was more psychological than anything, but I appreciated the smooth fill of the top and bottom portions of the grid.
LAT, 81D [NHL Flames’ home] (in the dead tree WaPo). ATL hasn’t been their home in over 40 years.
Infuriating! I usually like LAT Sundays a lot. But this particular one seemed poorly edited.
Oof! That error and the SOLARIS/NOUS cross landed this apparent debut puzzle in my thumbs-down category. I submitted my solution with ‘pOLARIS’/’NOUp’. In retrospect, I now see how off ‘NOUp’ looks, but it was my very last cross in the grid and I’m always in a hurry to hit the submit button by that point, especially with a large-grid puzzle.
There were other head-scratching moments also, the most perplexing of which was the clue for SEMI-RARE. “Degree of uncommonness, in some games”? Huh? What “games”? I have no idea what this clue is referencing.
Me? I gave up on the LEED/MAEVE cross. (I thought maybe it was LEUD/MAEVE or LEWD/MAWVE.)
Many video games involve acquiring items (such as weapons) that are classified as, eg, common, uncommon, rare, very rare, etc. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen semi-rare though.
As hailing from Calgary, imagine my brain exploding when I saw this miscLue!
The black squares in the middle are meant to suggest the symbol for infinity, ∞.
NYT: In spite of my implicit (explicit?) bias against Sunday puzzles, I thought this one was good. I was excited that I managed many of the proper names, since I usually suck at. I happen to know Steve KERR’s mother and late father (amazing people) so that one was a gimme.
I get all the theme entries but one: Why is PERPETUAL MOTION clued as Proposal, Proposal, Proposal. I don’t associate proposals with motion (whether we’re talking about work proposals or marriage proposals)… What am I missing?
In a meeting governed by parliamentary procedure, a proposal may be offered as a “motion,” to be seconded, discussed and voted on.
Think about a proposal in a legislative body (a motion).
NYT: I was slow to pick up on the theme and to get the theme answers (though I’m not sure knowing the theme would have really helped with the theme answers). Consequently, I had to plow through 82 three- and four-letter-words to get anywhere.
In addition to forcing a lot of short answers, the grid art infinity symbol makes for less than ideal flow.
But some of the answers and clues were fun. Nice to see KATANA after yesterday’s KATANAs.
Not my favorite Jeff Chen puzzle, but nothing off-putting, either.
NYT: I found the top half very easy and the bottom quite hard, possibly because some of the proper names. Liked it overall. I thought the LAT was rather funny and the WaPo nice as a usual… but am pretty sure I missed the icing (or even a full layer) of the cake. Looking forward to the review
Others have noted the many proper names in the NYT (for me, some unfamiliar terms, too) and the disjunction with the top, where the fill was trite. It all got on my nerves, though.
Theme reasonably smile worthy, but I kept feeling an inconsistent execution. BEAR, say, was a pun, but other theme entries were more literal.
Enjoyed almost nothing, honestly.
NYT not for me, theme immediately transparent, filled in maybe the full top half. Every block. Uninteresting without terrible fill though, alas never finished. meh word play to me, Sundays will eventually make me give up CWP altogether some day. 😢
LAT: The Flames clue took me forever, because they haven’t played in Atlanta for more than 40 years, and the cross clue wasn’t a lot of help.
USA – Spotted the AGE in the middle of the themers early, so that helped, but all three names were unfamiliar to uncultured me. So I Naticked at the cross of 36A and 38D. _OBBLE could have been b, c, g, h, or w for the wedding dance.
I was mystified by the wedding dance but luckily the across name was the only I did know. USA Today is usually pretty good at providing good crosses for words many people are unlikely to know, so this was an unusual editing mistake, IMO.
Uni Sunday – My favorite of the day. Nine themers, and all turn the tables on the original words (63A was originally a 2-word name).
NYT: CONTINUITYOFCARE was new to me, but inferable. I had more trouble with RECURRENTDREAMS. I guessed RECURRING first, and had CEOS instead of MGMT and UNO instead of SET (huh? don’t know that game at all). And then TEAEGG? Another thing I didn’t know.
An enjoyable Sunday overall. BEARSREPEATING amused me — made me think of the old Grateful Dead stickers you sometimes see on cars.
NYT: RAFE crossed with PRELATES was my hardest crossing.
LAT: Fun if you like puns (which I do). Good misdirect with the clue for HALLE. My biggest snag may have been sticking with PPG for the Pittsburgh ballpark, though I have heard of PNC Park.
The WaPo puzzle was easy and dull. No sparkle in the theme answers. Knowing that there are embedded fruits is unnecessary.
Really didn’t love that the NYT puzzle started off by immediately referencing (at 1A) a show with a star who harassed Eliza Dushku on set to an extent that she recently testified before Congress about it. It’s not like there aren’t an abundance of ways to clue that otherwise.
We could not figure out what ACR means… “Opposite of down: Abbr.” can anyone explain?
Abbreviation for “across.”
NYT: 12 down: “son” is hidden in “ladieSONly”