Sunday, February 6, 2022

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal 3:11 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 6:34 (Darby) 


WaPo 13:26 (Jim Q) 


Stephen McCarthy’s New York Times crossword, “Sci-Fi Showdown”—Nate’s write-up

When I first figured out the trick to this puzzle – that it’s a STAR WARS / STAR TREK tribute Schrodinger puzzle – I laughed out loud, showed it to my husband, and said, “Oh nooooo!” I know so little about the two franchises (or which character goes with which one!) that two of his favorite games are (1) to give me a character and see if I know if they’re from STAR WARS or STAR TREK and (2) to ask me for the rough story of, say, STAR WARS, based just on what I’ve absorbed from cultural knowledge. He will never let me forget the time I told him about Hans Olo. In my defense, though, who names their kid Han instead of Hans?! Okay, time to dig into this puzzle’s theme-related fill, to the extent that I understand it!

02.05.22 NYT Sunday Puzzle

02.05.22 NYT Sunday Puzzle

70A: STAR WARS or STAR TREK [The better of two major sci-fi film franchises?] – Wow! A Schrodinger puzzle is tough to pull off, but this is excellent.

25A: REBEL ALLIANCE [Good side in 70-Across]
115A: THE FEDERATION [Good side in 70-Across]

38A: HAN SOLO [Major role in 70-Across]
99A: MR SPOCK [Major role in 70-Across]

3D: DO OR DO NOT THERE IS NO TRY [Memorable quote from 70-Across]
17D: SPACE THE FINAL FRONTIER [Memorable quote from 70-Across]

And the Schrodinger down entries, which made 70A possible:
71D: WRAP or TRAP [“It’s a ___!”] – That’s the thing the alien guy says, right?! Nice bonus.
67D: WAIST or WRIST [Body part that precedes “band”]
47D: PAYERS or PAYEES [Ones involved in a transaction]
55D: LEASED or LEAKED [Let out, in a way]



So, a Schrodinger puzzle with a lot of parallel, theme-related fill. Wow! I’m still not quite sure which one of each pair goes with STAR TREK or STAR WARS, but I’ve certainly heard of them all (except for the sides, maybe). Impressive! What did y’all think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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

THEME: Teams within teams!

Washington Post, February 6 2022, Evan Birnholz, “Play Groups” solution grid



BONUS THEMERS (alternate revealers):


From a construction POV, the finds for this puzzle are extremely impressive. I think that may go under-appreciated, but it’s quite difficult to find words within phrases like this. Finn Vigeland had one in the NY Times that had breeds of cats and dogs running vertically all running through the phrase IT’S RAINING CATS AND DOGS, and I constructed one that ran in Universal which had types of grapes running vertically passing through the phrase THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE. I remember how difficult it was for me to find viable phrases that contained the words, but neither of those two puzzles had the added element of looking for team names within team names. Bravo!

This puzzle will definitely play different for sports fans than it will for non-sports fans. I am in the latter group. Not proud of my lack of knowledge, but I am the last person you want to use your phone-a-friend lifeline on if you’re handed a sports trivia question. One person actually trolled me in the comments on this blog some time ago, making fun of me because I was in the “o.ooooo1 %” unfamiliar with the name of a certain sports team (in turn, I pondered the percentage of people who would create a fake email address to troll someone blogging about a crossword, positing that that percentage would certainly be even lower).

One of my favorite Jeopardy! clips ever… this is my type of peeps:

Even still, I was able to uncover KANSAS CITY ROYALS with no crosses! COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS, on the other hand, I am unfamiliar with (needed a lot of crosses). I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of all the others. Is the WINGS a hockey team? Wait, no. That’s the Red Wings. The WINGS is another WNBA Team… hold on. Mind blown! I just realized there is another layer of constraint in the theme. It’s not just random sports teams within sports teams. They are all within the same sport/league/genus/species etc. Wowza!

So, very impressive. And there’s a chance that a non-sports person like myself may have enjoyed it more as I had more of a puzzle to figure out and couldn’t simply plunk in the themers.

Anyway, in the fill I remember there being some good stuff:

  • 98 [Shape of this answer’s third letter] ARC. Very meta. This clue hurt my brain a bit.
  • Tons of fun trivia and clues throughout, often with a sporty slant: like [He has exercise equipment, a pool table and a TV inside his doghouse] SNOOPY. Too much of this stuff to list, but that was what made the fill so enjoyable for me.

New for me:

  • TOE TAP as an exercise. Sounds like I can handle that one.
  • Amanda HESS.
  • SONORA. 
  • Elena DELLE Donne.
  • FAUN (on tip of tongue)

I wonder what’s in store for next week on Super Bowl Sunday? See, at least I knew that game is coming up! I’m in some pools. Not sure what teams are playing though…

Drew Schmenner Universal Crossword, “DJ Set”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: D.J. Phrases

Universal crossword solution · “DJ Set” · Drew Schmenner · Sun., 02.06.22



Goshdarnit. I was so close to breaking the three minute mark, which I’ve only don a handful of times. Got hung up on DIAMOND JUBILEE. Really wanted JEWELRY or something like that. Though I do think we should start using the word JUBILEE more often in everyday speak. That’s a fun word.

Fun phrases to uncover in a very standard no-frills type theme. Made more fun by some delightful clues in the fill:

  • [Singles seen on cheap dates?] ONES. That’s pretty damn good. Clue of the year contender?
  • [Return mail name?] LIAM. Another winner (cryptic style: the word “mail” is LIAM “returned” i.e. backwards).

Not much else to say about this one! Ideal Universal fare.

3.25 stars.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Walk Around the Block”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Synonyms for “walk” are found in the circled squares on either side of a black square (a.k.a. a “block”).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Walk Around the Block” · Paul Coulter · 2.6.22


There’s no wordplay in a theme like this. It’s strength comes (or doesn’t) from the strength of the individual entries, and this is a strong, fun set with nice, modern touches here and there.

I would argue, however, that the “walk” words don’t go “around” the block as much as they go over it or through it. To go “around” it, I’d say there had to be one of the circled letters either above the block or below it. Maybe that’s a little nit-picky though.

Aside from the theme we get to enjoy a lot of fun fill here like POTHEAD, BELARUS, “GOOD JOB!,” ON LEAVE, MOSH PIT, “OK, SHOOT,” RIALTO, and SEAHAWK.

Do we really want IPAD OS in our grids? I mean, I’ve been using Apple products since 1986, but can’t we be satisfied with IOS? I guess the phone and table OSs have diverged, but still.

Clues of note:

  • 28a. [Add]. PUT IN. I still see PUTIN when I’m looking at the grid.
  • 52a. [Country with a Taualuga dance]. SAMOA. Your cultural moment of the day. In Samoan, the word taualuga refers to the final stage of construction when building a house. Thus the dance is a celebration of a monumental task or a finale to a big event. It is also the highest form of art on the islands. Interestingly, unlike other Polynesian dances you may have seen, the Taualuga is performed solo. Here’s a history of the dance.

3.5 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Melt Down”—Darby’s write-up

Editors: Mollie Cowger & Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer include THAW (in reference to “melt” of the puzzle’s title), and all are also Down answers.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Melt Down" solution

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Melt Down” solution for 2/6/2022

  • 3d [“Hard-liner on government budget policies” DEFICIT HAWK
  • 14d [“Baseball honor named after ‘The Bambino’”] BABE RUTH AWARD
  • 24d [“Open sandwich with ham, pineapple and cheese”] TOAST HAWAII

It took me forever to spot THAW in these theme answers, so they weren’t much help as I was solving, and the O of TOAST HAWAII was my last completed entry. I thought that these were a nice set of themers though with two 11s and a 13, all going down, which was also pretty fun.

Generally, this felt like a pretty wide open grid that came together really well. BACTERIA, ALMANACS, BAGPIPER, and ON RECORD were all really fresh (not sure anyone has ever described BACTERIA that way before). Additionally, there were no names in this grid, aside from 61d [“___ Luisa jewelry”] ANA and 52d [“‘___ Pig’ (children’s cartoon)”] PEPPA, which was different.

Short and sweet from me today, but I really enjoyed this puzzle.

We’re approaching ONE-ISH as I’m writing this review, and TOAST HAWAII sounds pretty tasty to me right about now.

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39 Responses to Sunday, February 6, 2022

  1. David says:

    We loved the NYT puzzle — one of the best in months. There were fun answers, great use of the 21-letter-long answers, and of course a Schrodinger rebus section that was impressive. There was hardly any crosswordese fill. Overall, a triumph, and the first 5-star puzzle I’ve seen on a Sunday. I wish the Times didn’t publish its silly blurb about the puzzle (we do the paper version) because it gave away far too much.

  2. Andrea says:

    When I saw “the better of two…” at 70 across I figured something was up, because I got IT’S A TRAP but immediately after, got the Yoda quote at 3 down, at which point I was “could it be both?…”, which brought me to the happy and impressed realization.
    What a delightful puzzle!!

  3. Dave G. says:

    Wow, the NYT was truly impressive. Best puzzle in a long time.

  4. Eric H says:

    NYT: Maybe it’s because I knew that it was a Schrödinger puzzle before I started it, but I was kind of underwhelmed. Yes, Schrödingers are hard to pull off, and I give Mr. McCarthy props for doing that.

    But there’s so much three- and four-letter fill, much of which seems so dated: CHADS? Nicholas ROEG? AYLA?

    I did like seeing DONNIE Darko, though.

    • Jim G says:

      I appreciated the Schrödinger aspect as quite a clever bit of puzzle crafting, but the puzzle as a whole left me underwhelmed. The fill wasn’t great, IMO, and the theme answers were few (and short), other than the central Schrödinger answer. The solve started really fun for me when I found (and quickly filled in) the theme, but it got kind of GRIM after that. Maybe it’s that some of the clues seemed slightly off from their answers—or maybe it’s that I’m not up on my skin care and cosmetics brands.

      Oh, and DON’T BE SAD is supposed to be comforting?

      • Jim G says:

        Although, come to think of it, DO, OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY. and SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER aren’t exactly short, and I did like seeing the former in a puzzle. But both were pretty obvious.

  5. JohnH says:

    My first thought from the puzzle’s title was that I’m doomed. Sci-fi, about which I care so little? But I much enjoyed it. As a solver in the printed Sunday magazine, I had an edge, and I was wondering if the puzzle community would be aware of it in any way. The author bio adds that your solution might not agree with everyone’s and that the middle was hard to construct. From there, a mere glance at the grid with the central 8-letter fill was enough for a correct guess as to what’s going on, which might be a flaw, but still reasonably fun.

    From there, I started to wonder: would every theme fill then have to be ambiguous, too? But that would have been an incredibly messy and hard construction to pull off. My last to fall was the quote from Star Wars, which I didn’t know, but it’s an old sentiment (also trite and to my mind stupid, but no matter), so no big obstacle. My one enigma was that THEISM is a capital-B belief. What’s that mean?

    • Eric H says:

      My thought on THEISM was that theists believe in their God, while atheists believe there is no god.

      • placematfan says:

        More precisely, atheism (“a-” “theism”) is a rejection of the assertion that a god exists. It’s not a belief system. There’s an important distinction between “I believe that God does not exist” and “I do not believe that God exists”; the latter belongs to the atheist, while the former would be a subgroup of atheism.

        “Capital-b” is referencing the term “Believer” or something.

      • John Daviso says:

        Eric, I don’t follow what you’re saying.

        The question JohnH asked was what “THEISM is a capital-B belief” means? I have the same question.

        It may mean that theism is based on faith (“belief”) as opposed to deism, which is based on reason, while both terms propose the existence of a prime mover.

        Another way of saying it would be “belief with a capital B”. That’s the best I can come up with to make sense of the clue.

  6. Alex says:

    NYT: This one leans toward Star Trek, based on the bonuses. The “It’s a trap” – Capt. Kirk, and “It’s bad” – Dr. McCoy, made me chuckle.

  7. R Cook says:

    NYT: I appreciate that I didn’t have to decide whether to use the rebus option when filling the Schrödinger squares. The app just accepted TREK or WARS without complaint (an annoyance of many crossword apps when it’s not obvious how the constructor intended for special squares to be filled).

    That said, I was briefly miffed by the clue about jaguars purring (they don’t) until I realised he meant the car, not the cat.

    • Jim G says:

      Jaguars don’t purr? Huh. I remember going to the zoo once, many years ago, and hearing a panther purr. Seemed really weird at the time, but I figured cats are cats.

      • marciem says:

        from: lions might if they,what it takes to purr.&text=In big cats—lions, tigers,hyoid bones to the skull.

        “In big cats—lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars—a length of tough cartilage runs up the hyoid bones to the skull. This feature prevents purring but also gives the larynx enough flexibility to produce a full- throated roar..”

        The only “big cat” that can purr is the Cheetah, according to NWF. They are in a separate category from other big cats, being also unable to retract their claws.

        A well-tuned Jaguar, otoh, definitely purrs :) .

        • pannonica says:

          Hmm. Per that source, cheetahs can’t roar but instead are capable of making a chirping noise.

          I had sincerely thought that I’d learned some time ago that Panthera species sometimes purr during estrus and on other rare occasions, something that’s also mentioned (without citation) on the Wikipedia page.

      • pannonica says:

        Yes, all felids are capable of purring, but many species do so only rarely.

        • John Daviso says:

          So, make up my mind for me, will ya? Do they (“…all felids are capable of purring…”) or don’t they (“This feature prevents purring…”)? You guys created your own Schrödinger.

          I thought today’s NYT offering was superb. I had a devil of a time getting the Yoda quote correct due to his weird syntax.

          • pannonica says:

            I kind of responded to the discrepancy with my later comment, which appears above the other one.

            I’m still in contact with a systematist who’s done extensive studies on felid phylogenies. I can ask her.

            • marciem says:

              That would be great, pannonica.
              Another site I found says that the argument continues, ( and that the panthera sub group can only make the “purr” roll on exhalation, not a ‘true purr’ in some circles.
              We who have had our purrballs in our ears know the inhale-exhale purrs :) .

              Cheetahs are in a subgroup of their own (we have felis, pathera and… Acinonyx, that is cheetahs.) :)

            • pannonica says:

              Yes, the genera Felis, Panthera, Acinonyx. For a long time Felis was rather undifferentiated (for instance, including pumas) but now there are rather a lot of other taxa in use.

            • pannonica says:

              Following up: My colleague pointed me to a 2002 paper addressing the issue. It acknowledges that for a long time it was taken as axiomatic that because of hyoid structures, pantherines are unable to purr. However, the researchers did more extensive anatomical investigations and found the issue to be significantly more nuanced.

              Here’s the concluding paragraph:

              The distinction between ‘roaring’ and ‘purring’ can also be tentatively clarified in terms of the function of the vocal anatomy. Purring is caused by extremely rapid twitching of the vocalis muscle (running within the vocal folds). A large flexible pad like that seen in the vocal folds of the Pantherinae would tend to damp such twitchings and thus make it difficult, if not impossible, to purr. However, the elastic epihyoid of the Pantherinae has an independent function: allowing the lowering of the larynx, with concomitant lowering of formant frequencies. This adaptation is in principle quite independent of any change in the larynx,and thus has no direct effect on the ability to purr.

              Translation: maybe they can purr. Further study required.

              I have no idea if anyone else has addressed the issue in the past 20 years.

      • Philippe says:

        Clue shows Jaguar with a capital J, so that is the car. It purrs, I can attest, even if mine is not the iconic E-type

  8. Patrick M says:

    The overall batch of clues in The NYT made it particularly enjoyable to solve, on top of the Schrödinger twist.

  9. Ed says:

    From the Big Bang Theory:
    “Amy: That would be my boyfriend. Happier playing his dopey Star Trek game with his friends than hanging out with me
    Penny: Wars.
    Amy: What?
    Penny: Star Wars. They get all cranky when you mix the two up.
    Amy: What’s the difference?
    Penny: There is absolutely no difference!”

  10. David L says:

    81D: IMOK
    121A: ISITOK
    That seems egregious.

    The good thing about this puzzle is that we won’t have any Star WTaeresk material in the puzzle for at least a month, right? Right?

  11. Thanks, Jim.

    Just to clarify since I chose not to spell it out in the revealers: The theme clues for the long sports teams also work for their respective circled teams. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kyrie Irving have all played for the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets. The Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros* both won a World Series during the 2010s. Etc. I had to be fairly broad with some of those clues when I couldn’t find an all-star player or coach that had been with both teams.

    *Yes I know about the cheating scandal, for non-Astros fans solving my puzzle.

    • Jim Q says:

      Thanks for pointing that out! I’m definitely not the type of person who would’ve figured that out off-hand :)

  12. Mr. [moderately] Grumpy says:

    NYT: Fun! So cool that DO OR DO NOT … and SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER had the same number of letters
    LAT: Some clunkers. CHICKEN TO RIDE? No … no way could anyone hear that. But GIVE PEAS A CHANCE and ROB THE CASH BAR were hilarious. I did not like the duplication of the “Peruvian pronoun” clue and PERU in the grid. Easily avoidable but a minor nit.
    Universal Sunday: Not nitpicky to point out that the themers did not go “around” the block.
    WaPo: Meh. When I saw the title and the circled letters and WINGS inside of WASHINGTON MYSTICS, I thought we would have play titles in the circled letters. I would have found that theme a lot more interesting.

  13. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    NYT: Good puzzle, but 33A/33D was a Natick for me.

  14. Dan says:

    The clue for 32D is “If only ___ known …”, and the answer is “I’d’ve”.

    This must be a contraction for “I would have” (since “I had have” makes no sense).

    But “If only I would have known” is bad grammar.

    • David L says:

      I put IHAD initially, for that reason. But while ‘if only I would have known’ maybe somewhat suspect grammatically, I hear such constructions colloquially pretty often.

    • R says:

      Why is that bad grammar? It’s not violating any rules that I can see though I can tell it’s a little awkward to write out.

  15. Jenni Levy says:

    The spoiler in the magazine made me cranky. REALLY cranky. I liked the puzzle and would have loved the “aha” moment if I’d had the chance to figure it out organically. Will really should know better.

    • Eric H says:

      I solve online, so I didn’t see that spoiler. But someone on Facebook compared it to the famous 1996 Clinton/Dole puzzle, so I knew going in that it was a Schrödinger puzzle.

      Like you, I’d have preferred to figure that out on my own.

  16. Scott says:

    This was the best NYT crossword puzzle since Election Day 1996 with CLINTON and BOBDOLE!

  17. Jim Peredo says:

    NYT: Late to the party, but count me as a big fan of this puzzle which allowed me to geek out. Kudos to the constructor on an excellent job. But I have to ask…who’s MRS POCK? (Joking. Don’t @ me.)

  18. Billy Boy says:

    NYT has gotten the annoying solve with trite themes down to an art.

    Dueling, stupid fantasy franchises, poor excuses for science fiction in the (magnificent) Sunday puzzle and the readers lose it.

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