Sunday, December 26, 2021

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal 3:46 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today Untimed (Darby) 


WaPo 12:39 (Jim Q) 


Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword, “Pest Control”—Nate’s write-up

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate! I hope you’re doing well and able to spend time (safely, remotely, or otherwise) with friends and loved ones.

At first this puzzle seemed a bit buggy… and it turns out I wasn’t wrong! Let’s take a look:

12.26.21 Sunday NYT Puzzle

12.26.21 Sunday NYT Puzzle

21A: MOTHER [Malice, more formally] – Remove “lice” to get [Ma, more formally]
22A: HORSEBACK RIDER [One wearing chapstick, perhaps] – Remove “tick” to get [One wearing chaps, perhaps]
32A: NORTH POLE [Antarctic coordinate] – Remove “Ant” to get [Arctic coordinate]
51A: PUBLIC HOUSE [Blouse and broach, perhaps] – Remove “louse” and “roach” to get [B and B, perhaps]
65A: TRUE FALSE TEST [It has many beet and beef options] – Remove “bee” twice to get [It has many T and F options]
84A: SPEARHEADED [Tickled] – Remove “Tick” to get [Led]
96A: SOFT DRINK [Pop fly] – Remove “fly” to get [Pop]
116A: CHEESE [Briefly, e.g.] – Remove “fly” again to get [Brie]
37D: GET HITCHED [Antelope, say] – Remove “ant” again to get [Elope, say]
47D: GOOGLE MAPS [Approach for directions] – Remove “roach” again to get [App for directions]
113A: WORK OUT THE BUGS [Gradually fix something… or what to do to understand this puzzle’s italicized clues?]

At first (and to no avail), I searched the theme answers for bugs that I should remove. Then, I realized that you need to remove bug(s) from each theme answer’s clue in order for the clue to make sense. Neat! I especially enjoyed the theme answers were you had to remove two bugs to transform the clue. And for me, many of these were like camouflaging bugs – I didn’t see them until I needed to find them! How did you enjoy the theme and puzzle? Let us know in the comments section below!

(Random question unrelated to the theme: Does anyone actually say that someone is AFROED (92D)? It feels like an adjective that’s not quite in the language, and searching around doesn’t seem to show much support for its use. On Instagram, for example, #afro has 9.6 million posts, where as #afroed has 100+ posts. Black solvers – What is your experience with this offshoot version of afro?)

Desiree Penner and Jeff Sinnock’s Universal Sunday crossword, “R-rated Films”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Famous films have an R added to wacky effect.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “R-rated Films” · Desiree Penner and Jeff Sinnock · 12.26.21

  • 23a. [Movie about the “Simpsons” father trying to survive solo?] HOMER ALONE. This made me smile since we just watched Home Alone last night. I’m imagining Homer trying to come up with traps for burglars and each one backfiring.
  • 34a. [Movie about a couple fighting over orange juice preferences?] PULP FRICTION. Believable.
  • 42a. [Movie about the rise and fall of Helen’s city?] TROY STORY. Pixar’s adaptation of The Iliad, no doubt.
  • 66a. [Movie about a guppy named for an African country?] A FISH CALLED RWANDA. This made me LOL since Wanda is a favorite of mine..
  • 75a. [Movie about a group that writes apprehension-themed verses?] DREAD POETS SOCIETY. I solved this before seeing the clue. I wanted it to be about reggae song writers.
  • 102a. [Movie about singer Paisley’s fan club?] SUPERBRAD.
  • 109a. [Movie about an aptly named cranky ranger?] FORREST GRUMP.
  • 128a. [Movie about an association of horror movie lovers?] FRIGHT CLUB.

A well-executed and enjoyable theme; it’s got a good mix of films and enough humor to see it through.

The fill is clean and smooth if not especially sparkly. The long entries include ONE-PLAYER, HYBRID CAR, ADAMANTLY, and FAST EATER which get the job done. I didn’t time myself, but it felt like a quick solve, which is a testament to the smooth fill and straightforward clues.

Clues of note:

  • 36d. [Gumball cost, once]. CENT. This one’s for the octogenarian solvers, I suppose. When could one buy a gumball for a penny?
  • 81d. [One Time?]. ISSUE. Cute.

Enjoyable theme and solid fill throughout. This is the sophomore effort for this duo (who, interestingly, both have double letters in their first and last names) and it’s a job well done. 3.75 stars.

Drew Schmenner’s Universal Crossword, “It’s Happening!”— Jim Q’s write-up

Nifty, rad, puzzle!

THEME: Two-word phrases where the first word is a synonym for COOL.

Universal crossword solution · “It’s Happening!” · Drew Schmenner · Sun., 12.26.21




And the title… It’s Happening!

Has a retro feel to it, doesn’t it? A little bit of the Fonz, a touch of Huey Lewis, and a dash of In Living Color.

An easy to grok theme, for an entry level satisfying puzzle.

New for me (though I’m sure I’ve seen the name) CIARA. Maybe I should give (her?) a listen sometime. I do feel like she pops up in crosswords often. Literally no idea as to the genre or era of (her?) music.

Enjoy Sunday!

3.3 stars from me.





Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Cold Cuts”— Jim Q’s write-up

Let’s see what’s in store for the last WaPo of 2021! Why, it’s a meta puzzle :)

THEME: Meta… something to do with snow it appears… I’ll figure it out in a sec.

Washington Post, December 26 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Cold Cuts” solution grid


Those appear to be…

  • IT’S NO SWEAT OFF MY BACK! I really wanted SKIN for SWEAT there. Don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase referring to BACK SWEAT.
  • SANDNES, NORWAY. Never heard of it. Wondering now if I cycled through it on a bicycle tour at one point.
  • CASINO WAR. That’s a game? I’m assuming the house has an edge… what is it? It can’t just be a game of chance…

I’m almost 100% sure I know what’s going on, but I haven’t tested that hypothesis yet. Let’s do that now.

The word SNOW appears in every themer, but it separated by a letter. Do those letters spell the meta answer? Let’s see…






SKERI is most likely SKIER and I listed the entries in the wrong order. And, after all, a SKIER would be apt as that is certainly one who DASHes THROUGH THE SNOW.

This one was just fine! A nice, breezy way to end 2021. It may disappoint the meta-haters as it is meta dependent. Otherwise, it’s a themeless… with some tough longer entries like NO SWEAT OFF MY BACK (substitute the B in the answer with an S, and that’s how I know the phrase), SANDNES, NORWAY, and CASINO WAR.

I’m surprised I solved this so quick (for me), falling in the 12 minute range. I remember getting hung up in a few spots.

Looking back over the grid and the fill, I don’t see anything that jumps out at me to set off the Scowl-o-meter. Everything seems fairly standard.

So all-in-all, I enjoyed this one, as I do the vast majority of WaPo puzzles. But I’m not sure this will go down as the most memorable of a year full of some excellent Birnholz creations.

Enjoy Sunday!

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Interstitial Ads”—Darby’s write-up

Edited by: Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer includes SPOT (as in an ad SPOT) in the middle (making them interstitial), spaced out between two words

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Interstitial Ads"

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Interstitial Ads” solution for 12/26/2021

  • 15a [“Phrases on Idaho license plates”] FAMOUS POTATOES
  • 35a [“2006 biopic about Peter Rabbit’s creator”] MISS POTTER
  • 59a [“Shows no promise”] LACKS POTENTIAL

Two 14-letter and one 10-letter answers make up the theme today, and if you look at the grid, it’s cool that you can see SPOT line up one on top of another as you move down the grid. I think that this balances out the – in my opinion – less than exciting themers. FAMOUS POTATOES was interesting, and now I have to imagine that “FAMOUS POTATOES” is the official catchphrase of Idaho (it’s actually esto perpetua, meaning “Be eternal”). MISS POTTER was tough, and I felt like LACKS POTENTIAL was good but just outstanding. However, with the line of ad SPOTs going down, I did feel that this was in more balance.

We had some great 7-letter answers in this grid. Up top were 10d [“Twisted snack”] PRETZEL and 11d [“Supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids”] FISH OIL. We also saw 38d [“Rode a bike”] PEDALED, 41d [“Raw dish often eaten with wasabi”] SASHIMI, 42d [“Crotch-to-cuff measurements”] INSEAMS, and, my favourite, 43a [“Vacant area used for baseball games”] SANDLOT.

A solid Sunday for a day-after-Christmas/December 26th solve.I also loved letting MARINADE click for 35d [“Pre-grilling sauce”] and 60d’s [“Alma mater of Anthony Bourdain”] CIA for a little CIA spice-SANS-espionage.

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29 Responses to Sunday, December 26, 2021

  1. JohnH says:

    The coincidence of MOTH in MOTHER, the very first theme entry, had me looking for ways to make sense of the clues and answers if the latter were debugged as well. But that did straighten itself out pretty soon.

    The fill wasn’t really on my wavelength, but that’s fine. It’ll be all the better for someone else.

  2. Bryan says:

    NYT: Clever to make the clues the thing to “fix” rather than the entries. I enjoyed this one! One bug (error) that made it into the puzzle is the answer for 16d, which I believe should be “ghost,” not “ghoul,” unless I’ve been mishearing the lyrics all this time.

  3. Martin says:

    In addition to tomorrow’s WaPo, tomorrow’s Universals (15×15 and 21×21) are in the Google Drive folder now:

    • Dena says:

      Thank you very much! Appreciate it.

    • Steve Blunk says:

      Thank you for this. My issue is that I’ve become unable to download files directly from the Crossword Fiends site – neither PUZ or PDF. This occurs with either Safari or Firefox user macOS 10.15.7 (Catalina).


    • David Steere says:

      Sorry to be an idiot, Martin. In spite of my note below, I can’t get the 12/27 Universal puzzle to print out. I think I was able to do so the first day. FIREFOX won’t even download them today. EDGE will allow them to be downloaded to my desktop and then opened in ACROSS LITE. But, the print puzzle command in ACROSS LITE does nothing. No physical print. I’m sure it is a mistake on my part but I can’t figure it out. Will the 12/27 Universal puzzle be printable tomorrow from their HTML site which still shows the puzzle from two days ago? I already printed the WSJ 12/27 puzzle from their HTML site. Thanks for any advice.

  4. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    No clues are italicized when printing the NYT puzzle.

    • David L says:

      Indeed. I finished the puzzle with a great deal of puzzlement, only to see the revealer at the end referring to italicized clues, of which there were none.

  5. Eric H says:

    NYT: Fun theme, though I was mildly disappointed that “one wearing chapstick, perhaps” wasn’t a denizen of a leather bar. OttO for OCHO gave me the annoying “not quite there” message, but tORSEBACK RIDER was easy to spot.

  6. PJ says:

    NYT 14d – I was thinking Katherine Graham and John Mitchell and entered TIT.

  7. Christina Iverson says:

    AFROED was debuted by Erik Agard (and Paolo Pasco) which is why I felt safe using it! I was thinking if someone who has had an afro uses the word, it must be legit. I hope that is the case!

  8. David Steere says:

    Universal: I’m unable to access the usual urls for today’s two Universal puzzles. I’m still logged in “Forever” on the Cruciverb page but I’m getting error messages when I try to go directly to the AcrossLite links. Same for Firefox, IE and Edge. Any ideas of a solution? Thanks, in advance.

    • David Steere says:

      Sorry, Martin. I just remembered your note from yesterday with the tinyurl link. I apologize. I’ve gotten the puzzles. Happy New Year!

  9. Maura Daly says:

    WaPo — loved this one!

    I do agree with Jim Q — I’d say “No Sweat” when something is easy but “no skin off my nose for” it’s doesn’t matter or I don’t care. The Google shows me I’ve just missed the sweat/back usage.

    Also without Evan’s own commentary, I’d have missed the truly wonderful Birnholzian extra layer: the crossing words of the extra letters (the cold cuts) are all synonyms for dash. Enjoyable holiday puzzle.

    Thanks, Evan and Jim Q — always look forward to the puzzles and the reviews. Onward for 2022!

    • John F. Ervin says:

      Wow, this puzzle just became more clever (to me) because of your post. Thanks. I was wondering where the “cold cuts” fit in.
      Also while I’m at it, I thought the clue for 134A was excellent and my last solve!
      (joined forces with horses,say?)

      • Maura says:

        I know to look for the extra layers in Evan’s work but I often still miss them. And I agree — that’s a fun clue for RHYMED. Evan’s own commentary mentioned that very clue — I’m paraphrasing but something to the effect of marveling at getting paid to write things like “joined forces with horses”

  10. Randie says:

    As my 16 year old assistant pointed out, if “person helping with a delivery “ was going to be OBGYN than the clue should have had an abbreviation.

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