Sunday, December 19, 2021

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT tk (Nate) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today Untimed (Darby) 


WaPo 20:00 (Jim Q) 


Heads up, puzzle people! The December 27th issue of the New Yorker will be an enhanced version of the annual cartoon issue. It’s Cartoons & Puzzles! The puzzles will include crosswords, a cryptic, an acrostic, a trivia quiz, and a meta-puzzle hidden throughout the magazine. The 12/27 issue should hit newsstands and subscriber mailboxes around Monday the 20th, and online readers can print out the puzzles. I’m looking forward to it!—Amy

Laura Taylor Kinnel’s New York Times crossword, “Season to Taste”—Nate’s write-up

Hi, all! I hope this post finds you doing well as we head into the second half of December and the holiday season for many. Stay safe out there! (Also, apologies for the slightly later review post – it’s been quite the busy weekend getting things ready to mail out for the holidays.)

Today’s NYT puzzle sounds sweet enough to eat, just from the title alone. Let’s dig in:

NYT 12.18.21 Sunday Puzzle

NYT 12.18.21 Sunday Puzzle

23A: [Little tyke / Flatter, with “up”] PEANUT / BUTTER
6D: [It was eliminated from the U.S. in 2004] – RU(BELL)A
– The PEANUT BUTTER cookie was cut with a BELL shape.

33A: [Relative of a te-hee / Bit of marginalia] SNICKER / DOODLE
36D: [Genuine] (HEART)FELT
– The SNICKER DOODLE cookie was cut with a HEART shape.

43A: [Pep / Onesie feature] GINGER / SNAP
40D: [Some graffiti] S(TREE)T ART
– The GINGER SNAP cookie was cut with a TREE shape.

52A: [Ring / Hold, as inhabitants] TOLL / HOUSE
48D: [Citrus hybrid] T(ANGEL)O
– The TOLL HOUSE cookie was cut with an ANGEL shape.

69A: [Reduce in volume / As new] THIN / MINT
58D: [Where to go on a trip?] RE(ST AR)EA
– The THIN MINT cookie was cut with a STAR shape.

85A: [Kind of leaf / Scientist born on Christmas Day in 1642] FIG / NEWTON
56D: [Personal essence] TRUE S(ELF)
– The FIG NEWTON cookie was cut with an ELF shape.

93A: [Possible result of getting one’s wires crossed / Moolah] SHORT / BREAD
77D: [Pirate] BUC(CANE)ER
– The SHORT BREAD cookie was cut with a CANE shape.

102A: [Breakfast dish / Fruitcake tidbit] OATMEAL RAISIN
88D: [More than enough] TOO (MAN)Y
– The OATMEAL RAISIN cookie was cut with a MAN shape.

116A: [This puzzle’s images, in two different ways] COOKIE CUTTERS

Each of the theme entries is made up of two halves, literally “cut” by holiday-shaped COOKIE CUTTERS, shapes that act as rebuses in the puzzle. I love that the puzzle has the little cut-out shapes in the rebus squares, which adds a nice touch and hopefully aided in solving the puzzle. Fun fact: The version of this puzzle that I test solved did not have the shape images in the rebus squares, which made the rebuses essentially unchecked by the crossings. That made the puzzle much more difficult to solve (for me at least!), so I’m excited to hear how the officially published version plays for folks. Let me know in the comments what you thought!

Gary Larson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Think Differently”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar adverbial phrases are clued punnily, somewhat akin to the style of a Tom Swifty.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Think Differently” · Gary Larson · 12.19.21

  • 21a. [Like a gravelly-voiced orator?] ROUGHLY SPEAKING.
  • 43a. [Like close-up magic?] NEARLY DONE.
  • 66a. [Like a comedian on Zoom?] REMOTELY FUNNY. I like the answer, but no one ever says this. The more common phrase is that something is “not remotely funny.”
  • 90a. [Like furniture at a nudist camp?] BARELY USED.
  • 116a. [Like shoes that come in triple-E sizes?] WIDELY AVAILABLE.
  • 14d. [Like a stoner’s lava lamp?] HIGHLY REGARDED.
  • 51d. [Like a staticky radio station?] POORLY RECEIVED.

These work, and even though I have a nit with REMOTELY FUNNY, I think I liked that one best for the clue’s timeliness.

Not much long fill due to the fact that theme answers are in both directions. But the grid is clean and has numerous highlights: ALLEYWAY, POPPED BY, PEN PAL, RAISINS, ERSATZ.

Chipsi mayai, aka “zege,” is a French fry omelet from Tanzania.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [World of Warcraft, e.g.]. PC GAME. Hmm. Not a great start to the grid since the game is also available on Mac, which, while a personal computer, is not generally referred to as a PC.
  • 47d. [Enjoyed some chipsi mayai]. ATE. I think this type of clue is becoming a thing at Universal which introduces American solvers to a lesser-known world dish. In this case, chipsi mayai comes from Tanzania, and—per Wikipedia—is the most popular street food and unofficial national dish of the country. “The dish was invented in the streets of Dar es Salaam. In its most basic form, chipsi mayai is a simple potato-egg omelette… It is generally prepared with chips, oil and beaten eggs fried together in a pan.” “Chips” refers to what we call “French fries.”
  • 89d. [Part of a batting lineup?]. LASH. Nice clue.

3.5 stars from me.


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 18″— Jim Q’s write-up

Hard to believe there’s been 18 themeless WaPos.

Washington Post, December 19 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Themeless No. 18” solution grid

THEME: None.


  • IT’LL BE OUR LITTLE SECRET. That’s great. Can’t believe it’s only 21 letters. Sounds longer.
  • ALTERNATE UNIVERSES. I entered ALTERNATE REALITIES. Same number of letters!
  • UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. No crosses needed :)

Very low word count for this impressive themeless. I’M STUNNED.


  • GOOSE EGGS looks delightfully funky in a grid.
  • ARE YOU THERE? was a fun entry.
  • Really had trouble spelling SEYMOUR.
  • Never heard muscles described as BIS. Heard of LATS…
  • Does anyone say NETHER without it being attached to “region”?
  • TRAIN SICK? Never heard of that, though of course it makes sense. I think I just know it as “motion sickness.”
  • Is THE MASTER any good?
  • NOT INTERESTED and SPIDER MONKEYS were fun to uncover.

New to me:


Felt like all those new-to-me names were on the same side of the puzzle, which grated on me a bit. Of course, they’re all fairly crossed, but they were difficult for me to infer and tackling each of those areas with the same elbow grease felt a bit redundant to me. Happy to see new names of course, just rough for me as they were all in the same area.

That upper right corner sounds old-timey. AUTOMAT! SPY HOLE! SCRIBES! and TESS Trueheart! Something very film noir about it.

TIES felt oddly clued [Some wedding reception accessories] as I don’t really think of them as “accessories” specific to wedding receptions. I mean, the clue works, but it felt weirdly specific and vague at the same time. Crossing the difficultly clued TIRES [Black rings, often] and a name I didn’t know SCOTT MOIR made me all but guess on the I and the E in TIRES. Happy Pencil appeared, but I wasn’t confident there.

Always fun to solve a WaPo themeless in the long run.

Thanks, Evan!

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Hidden Image”—Darby’s write-up

Edited by Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer included ICON in the middle, hiding the “image” within the phrase.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Hidden Image" solution for 12/19/2021

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Hidden Image” solution for 12/19/2021

  • 20a [“Spicy stew at a cookoff”] CHILI CON CARNE
  • 39a [“Hotspot offering”] WIFI CONNECTION
  • 61a [“Some 20-Across ingredients”] ORGANIC ONIONS

This was a fun theme, especially since hidden images on their own tend to be games, so it felt apt for crosswords as a medium. I also appreciated that ICON spanned across two words in each answer, as well as the connection in cluing between 20a and 61a. I wasn’t crazy about ORGANIC ONIONS as an answer because I felt like the clue could have been a little more specific, but the crosses helped there.

Some other things I noticed included:

  • 46a [“Like a heavy favorite”] – I expected this to fill as ODDS ARE or BETS ON, so ODDS ON felt a bit odd to me.
  • 68a [“Dance that originated in Bohemia”]POLKA traces its roots back to Anna Slezak in 1834, who supposedly came up with the dance. By the mid-1800s, “POLKAmania” ran rampant in dance circles. You can read more about the history here.
  • 69a [“Actress __ Moten Barnett”] – This ETTA is different from the usual reference to ETTA JAMES. ETTA Moten Barnett is best known for originating the role of Bess in the musical Porgy and Bess.

That’s all from me! Have a great week!

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Sunday, December 19, 2021

  1. Jenni Levy says:

    LOVED the Acrostic today. So much fun.

  2. Jenni Levy says:

    And thanks for the heads-up about The New Yorker issue. I’ll hunt down a hard copy.

  3. Me says:

    WaPo: I wish this hadn’t had a clue that referenced Fu Manchu, a character who’s a negative ethnic stereotype.

    • I’m sorry, that’s on me.

      • Mr. Grumpy says:

        And I wish 79A had not been in the grid, since I’ve worked on too many cases involving child molesters who used exactly that sort of line.

        • Jim Q says:

          That disturbing connotation never crossed my mind until now. I’m sorry you’ve been exposed to that line repeatedly in an unsettling context, but it certainly wasn’t clued to evoke that sentiment as far as I can tell.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          Ellen Ripstein proofreads the puzzles I wrangle for work. Every time we have a fill-in-the-blank answer clued via “It’ll be our little secret,” she flags it for the reason Mr. Grumpy objects to the phrase. Luckily, when it’s a FITB, it’s easy to reclue in a non-creepy manner. The full phrase, though? Oof. I appreciate that Ellen has sensitized me to it.

  4. Billy Boy says:

    NYT fun today with one godawful answer

  5. David L says:

    NYT: I did the print version so there were no cookie cutter shapes. I was puzzled by MAN in TOOMANY, since it seemed so random and unChristmassy. And I couldn’t come up with the STAR. I wanted the down to be RESORTAREA, but I was pretty confident SORTAR was not a thing. I should’ve seen STAR easily enough but didn’t.

    • Mr. Grumpy says:


      To answer Nate’s question [kind of], I went and looked at the app later to see if it was interesting, and I thought that having the shapes in the grid was dumb. The puzzle was challenging in AcrossLite, as David L notes. The shapes in the app took away the challenge.

  6. yrmother says:

    NYTimes: I too did the print version and had no idea that the online solve version had pictures in the rebus squares until I read Rex Parker’s review where he talked about them. I thought the puzzle was somewhat challenging figuring out how it worked, and it would have been a lot easier had the paper version had the pictures in the squares. But I felt more of a sense of accomplishment having had to exercise my few remaining brain cells working it out on my own.

  7. Michael says:

    Re: OK BOOMER. I personally liked the answer, but was surprised no one in this crowd commented on its ageist undertones.

    • Huda says:

      As a woman scientist and immigrant from the Arab world, I have dealt with many kinds of biases. I feel ageism may be the last prejudice to be confronted. Even in academia, where people think of themselves as paying attention to biases of all types, many are quite blind to it. I guess by definition, aging happens to people late in life, they don’t tumble to how it feels until they’re there, and likely do not have the power to change it.
      Covid has made things worse, because being old puts you at higher risk and that can be seen as a burden to everyone else…
      I feel this is why so many cultures have built respect for your elders into the very fabric of their civilization.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Well said, Huda. re “I feel this is why so many cultures have built respect for your elders into the very fabric of their civilization.” … I’ve always hated the fact that our culture isn’t one of those and I wonder how that came to be the case.

    • Billy Boy says:

      It’s a lame (sic) – ass broad brush, that’s why, fully applicable, but only to to whom it is actually applicable.

      Then – regarding biases in science (real Scientific research and reporting) there are over 30 identifiable biases, expectation bias being perhaps the most egregious; seemingly everything is proved by”science” today, except it’s not.

      Ageism has such an easy target it’s laughable

      Tying this together? Not here. It’s actually best served in a verbal debate, something on the proverbial endangered species list.

  8. Mutman says:

    NYT: I did the print version.

    Actually, the online had better pictures.

    I did not get the ‘ELF’ picture because it is a ghost in ink. That’s just bad editing, IMO.

  9. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    WaPo puzzle:
    * Liked the long downs.
    * Far, far too many names of obscure people.
    * 100D is just lame.

  10. Mark Abe says:

    LAT: I just wanted to give a thumbs-up to the “Long and Short of It” changing a long i, spelled “igh” as in “fight”, to a short i, as it “fit”. I enjoyed the resulting puns and that getting the theme helped the solve.

    • Pilgrim says:

      I agree. The LAT was fun and the theme phrases/puns were entertaining. When I finished, I thought the “fight”-“fit” phrase wasn’t how I remembered the John Paul Jones quote, but this is the phrase that was apparently used on WWII patriotic posters.

  11. Brenda Rose says:

    Shout out to Huda’s comments.
    I find it snarky when “comics’ chastise Biden for his age…like to see what they’ll be doing when they’re 78…certainly not running a country I’m sure.
    My husband & I often said it’ll be our little secret about a jillion things. One of them was arranging a fantastic Tahoe trip for us & the kids. Sad if this phrase brought painful memories to Mr. Grumpy. It made me smile.

Comments are closed.