Sunday, February 20, 2022

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT tk (Nate) 


Universal 3:32 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 3:09 (Darby) 


WaPo 11:02 (Jim Q) 


Victor Barocas’s New York Times crossword, “Pardon My French”—Nate’s write-up

Apologies for the delayed NYT review – some friends were in town from DC and our Binax tests had us in the clear! This week’s Sunday NYT puzzle has some French puns, and I’ll leave it to y’all to tell me if they work / are pronounced properly because I don’t speak much French at all and only recognize some basic French words from crosswords.

02.20.22 Sunday NYT Puzzle

02.20.22 Sunday NYT Puzzle

22A: [Positive thinker’s motto?] OUI SHALL OVERCOME
34A: [Means of becoming a god?] DIEU PROCESS
51A: [Where Rapunzel let down her hair?] BELLE TOWER
65A: [Holy water?] EAU FOR HEAVENS SAKE
83A: [Answer to ‘What is Roquefort or Brie?'”] CEST CHEESE
96A: [Spilled milk?] LAIT TO WASTE
112A: [The queen with her pets?] REINE CATS AND DOGS

EAU FOR HEAVENS SAKE, CEST CHEESE, and LAIT TO WASTE really cracked me up, especially with how simple their clues could be to get to these 0punchlines. I also appreciated that the French words used were all ones that were easily recognizable from crosswords, making the puzzle feel accessible to the non-Francophones out here.

Other random thoughts:
1A: [Tobacco plug] CHAW – This felt like a strange choice for 1A, which you usually want to be a nice/easy entry to get folks started in the puzzle. We have this more archaic, tobacco-related word instead of CHAP or CHAT, which could have also easily worked here.
14A: [Taller roommate of 15-Down] BERT and 15D: [Shorter roommate of 14-Across] ERNIE – My kingdom for the day when “Sesame Street” lets these kings announce their true relationship. (Also, I wonder if the original clues submitted for this puzzle tied OSCAR at 27A into the “Sesame Street” angle?
91A: [Announcement on National Coming Out Day] IM GAY – You know I had to shout out this entry. I love to see it, especially knowing this entry only first appeared in a NYT puzzle in 2015(!).

What did you think about the puzzle? Qu’as-tu pensé? (Or at least that’s what Google Translate gave me!) Let us know in the comments section below.

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

THEME: Popular meals clued wackily as if they belong to a celebrity.

Washington Post, February 20 2022, Evan Birnholz, “Celebrity Dish” solution grid


  • 23A [Actress Eva’s lettuce dish?] GREEN SALAD. 
  • 25A [Bluesman B.B.’s fish dish?] KING SALMON. 
  • 36A [Singer John’s egg dish?] DENVER OMELET. 
  • 54A [Actor Martin’s meat dish?] SHORT RIBS. 
  • 68A [Comedian Chris’s crustacean dish?] ROCK LOBSTER. 
  • 86A [Actor Jack’s fish dish?] BLACK BASS. 
  • 98A [Singer Fiona’s pastry dish?] APPLE STRUDEL. 
  • 117A [Actress Betty’s sliced dish?] WHITE PIZZA. 
  • 119A [Rapper Foxy’s fish dish?] BROWN TROUT. 

A very over-the-plate (no pun intended) puzzle. One that welcomes solvers at any level into the WaPo building. I was half expecting the first letters of the celebrity names to spell something out in Birnholzian fashion, but it’s rather nice to solve something that doesn’t have (or need) another layer now and again. This one was well-placed in the lineup following a meta from last week.

As far as the themers go, fishy dishes are definitely in abundance! I think I’d take the KING SALMON over the others if I were dining out, but did anyone uncover ROCK LOBSTER and not immediately get an earworm? (my earworm is Peter Griffin’s take on the song. Great. Now it’s back. Arghh!)

Didn’t know Eva GREEN or Foxy BROWN, but those were the only new ones for me.

Some notable clues/answer pairs in this one:

  • 5A [“John ___ Jingleheimer Schmidt”] JACOB! Another earworm! Are kids still taught this in elementary school? Such a ridiculous song.
  • 51A [T/I/N/A turner] VANNA. I’d call that a Clue of the Year contender, although… ya’ know… she doesn’t really turn anything anymore.
  • 101A [Titans, or an NFL team that might play against the Titans] GIANTS. Nice one.
  • 60A [“Pondering My ___” (meme showing a wizard staring into a crystal ball]. Never heard of this meme til now. Sounds hilarious.

New Names for Me:

  • John AMOS. 
  • SETH Doane
  • ERIC Wilson
  • JASPER National Park
  • Ilhan OMAR
  • Aforementioned Eva GREEN and Foxy BROWN.

And of course, I’m sure all of use smiled at the reference to Betty WHITE PIZZA.

Thanks for this one! Enjoy Sunday.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Chair Assembly”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer includes a part of a chair for you, the solver, to assemble.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Chair Assembly" solution for 2/20/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Chair Assembly” solution for 2/20/2022

  • 16a [“‘Let me hang up for a moment to deal with this’”] I’LL CALL YOU BACK
  • 28a [“Artificial upper limbs”] PROSTHETIC ARMS
  • 47a [“Local government center”] COUNTY SEAT
  • 60a [“Drumsticks”] CHICKEN LEGS

This really fun, creative, and much less harrowing that IKEA directions can sometimes be. I’m always pleased when I get phrases like I’LL CALL YOU BACK on the first go. I also thought that these themers were great in removing each of the chair pieces from that context. I didn’t get the theme until I finished, so it didn’t necessarily help me solve, but I saw the connection right away once I finished.

We’ve got another asymmetric grid here with what felt like a packed grid with 75 answers (if I counted correctly). I appreciated that the asymmetry gave us sets of five in the middle and rightmost sections of the bottom portion of the grid while also maintaining a nice set of fours across the first two rows. The middle fell into place quickly with the quick moves between threes, fours, and fives. I struggled most with the bottom left corner when starting with the Across clues because I was unfamiliar with 55a [“Narenda Kohli’s language”] and 59a [“‘Gossip Girl’ actor Brown”]. However, filling in the Downs quickly brought me to HINDI and ELI.

Three other fun things for today:

  • 26a [“Name that means ‘ocean’ in Hawaiian”] – I didn’t know this about KAI, but a quick Google search brought me to a new great resource called Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Its goal “is to make these resources available for the use, teaching, and revitalization of the Hawaiian language and for a broader and deeper understanding of Hawai’i.
  • 3d [“Challenging request”] – I thought that TALL ORDER was a fun answer to see in a puzzle, and it paired well with the other 9-letter answer to 11d [“Peach with no fuzz”] NECTARINE just a few columns down.
  • 10d [“U.S. state with the longest coastline”] – This was a new fact for me about ALASKA but was still fillable since I already had the ALA from moving across.

Overall, I think that this was the fastest USA Today puzzle I’ve ever done, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with that, and like I said, it was a lot less stressful than building IKEA furniture (though it’s too bad IKEA isn’t mentioned in the puzzle). Have a great week!

Christina Iverson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “A Model Theme”—Jim P’s review

Today we have familiar phrases featuring words that are also car models. Their clues are crossword-wacky, of course.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “A Model Theme” · Christina Iverson · 2.20.22

  • 21a. [Last Nissan pickup at the dealership?] THE FINAL FRONTIER. Nice one to start with.
  • 33a. [Makes a compact Chevy?] CREATES A SPARK. I may have known there was a Chevy Spark, but it’s not one that I can readily envision.
  • 49a. [“We’re all out of that Ford SUV”?] THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
  • 63a. [Look for your Kia hatchback in a crowded lot?] DO SOME SOUL SEARCHING. I think it’s obligatory to include a Kia Soul in any car-based crossword theme.
  • 78a. [Honda SUV used in a commercial?] TELEVISION PILOT.
  • 91a. [Exits a Subaru sedan?] LEAVES A LEGACY.
  • 104a. [Own a Dodge SUV that excels in crash tests?] HAVE A SAFE JOURNEY.

A fun set, yeah? We’ve seen car model-based themes before, but it feels like it’s been a while since I encountered one.

I do wish there was another overall connecting element here, and the puzzle is so close to one. Nearly all the clues are related to the car-making/buying process, save two. The Kia clue could be changed to [Shop for that perfect Kia hatchback?], and the Subaru clue could be changed to [Trades-in a Subaru sedan?].

I do have to mention my own car-based puzzle from a few years back. I don’t have that many published grids, so when I spot a theme answer that I used once upon a time, I can’t help but think of that puzzle. Here it is from 2015, back in the earliest days of the WSJ going daily.

Lots to like in the fill today: LEOPARD SKIN, INSIDE INFO, OVERSLEEP, ONION BAGELS, PLOTLINES, Sony’s old DISCMAN, ROSE HIP, SARCASM, and Pat BENATAR. I’m on the fence with COARSE SALT, though. I see that it’s often labelled “Coarse Kosher Salt” or just “Kosher Salt”. I use “coarse black pepper” far more often.

LOS and LAS together in the same grid, both meaning “the”, and right next to one another at 11a and 14a? Feels a bit too dupey to me.

Clues of note:

  • 17a. [Button inside a blouse?]. NAVEL. Cute. The “blouse” tricked me into thinking the button was a part it.
  • 24a. [82-Across’s features a butterfly]. LOGO. There’s no way—at 24a—that I’m going to go looking for 82a in a 21x grid. Thankfully, I made a correct educated guess based on a couple crosses. (82a turned out to be MSN.)
  • 37a. [Mark with two dots]. COLON. I so wanted UMLAUT here.
  • 58a. [Wedding runner]. EMCEE. Huh? Maybe a wedding reception is run by an EMCEE, but the actual wedding is led by some sort of officiant.
  • 32d. [Regarding]. IN RE. Doesn’t seem right to use “Regarding” in the clue when the phrase is often translated “in regards to”.
  • 44d. [2021 Bachelorette Thurston]. KATIE. I guess the capital B indicates this person was on the TV show.
  • 51d. [Blessing’s opposite]. CURSE. And in the parlance of Reddit, when something is both a blessing and a curse, it’s “blursed”.
  • 59d. [“Hello ___” (classic cellphone tagline)]. MOTO. “Classic” feels a tad generous.
  • 80d. [Green Apple product, perhaps]. IMAC. The new line of iMacs are fruit-colored in a throwback to the versions they made 20 years ago.
  • 81d. [Fruit that may grow inside a brandy bottle]. PEAR. Never heard of this. That’s kinda kooky!
  • 83d. [“Cousin” on “Succession”]. GREG. No idea why “Cousin” is in quotes as I’m not familiar with the show.
  • 93d. [Burton who will host “Trivial Pursuit”]. LEVAR. He was a fan favorite for the Jeopardy gig, and I would have loved to have seen him get it.

Fun puzzle. Four stars.

Desiree Penner and Jeff Sinnock’s Universal Crossword, “Swinging Celebration”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Events are found backwards in common phrases

Universal crossword solution · “Swinging Celebration” · Desiree Penner · Jeff Sinnock · Sun., 02.20.22


  • (revealer) TURN OF EVENTS. 

Fine puzzle, featuring my pet peeve of Universal: theme-dependent circled letters. Actually, it’s stronger than a pet peeve. It’s just embarrassing that Universal can’t find a way to publish circles in its puzzles when the theme calls for it. Always takes away from the solve (for this one, I solved in Across Lite, so I got the version that Universal offers that does include circles… the fact that it’s offered in that form is a tacit acknowledgement that the version offered to the masses is subpar)

Love that PARTY can be found in BOOBY TRAP. All themers were solid.

I asked my class of high school freshmen about a week ago if anyone says “LIT” anymore. A unison chorus of “NO” was the response. Maybe it’s time to go back to cluing it flame-style. It’s the equivalent of PHAT from the 90s, and it’s done.

The GOT BY / EKE BY dupe is… well… a dupe. Actually made EKE BY difficult for me to fill in because I thought “No way would a dupe be that blatant.” Calling attention to it by repeating the clue doesn’t help imo.

Anyway, like I said, puzzle was fine. It’s hard for me to get excited with the circled letter themes in Universal, which is no fault of the constructor. I don’t mean to sound as negative as I may be coming across.

3.3 stars with circles.

1.3 stars without.


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25 Responses to Sunday, February 20, 2022

  1. Theresa Hogoboom says:

    Links lead to 2/13 puzzles not 2/20 puzzles

  2. Gary R says:

    NYT: Seems to be a lot of disdain for today’s puzzle among the raters. Struck me as a decent, but not outstanding, Sunday puzzle. I don’t speak much French, but I suspect that for a fluent French speaker, the substitutions are less-than-perfect homonyms for the English words they’re replacing in the themers. For me, they were close enough.

    The puns weren’t especially funny, but at least evoked a smile or two as I solved. That said, I wasn’t especially fond of 95-A. To my ear, “lay (or laid) waste to” is much more common phrasing than “lay to waste” – maybe “lay to rest” would have been better.

    Otherwise, the fill seemed pretty clean. The only totally unfamiliar entry for me was the Netflix series at 66-D. The ANNE part was guessable from the clue, but I had no idea on the rest. It’s an on-going challenge for me – I don’t watch a lot of television, outside of sports, so the programming that show up on premium channels/services only gets on my radar when it shows up in crossword clues/answers. Oh, well!

    • Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

      Agree completely — especially regarding LAY WASTE TO, which was probably the weakest of the entries. The rest were very amusing, however, and the pronunciations are close enough for puns, for crying out loud. I thought this was a classic Sunday.

    • marciem says:

      I don’t think a LOT of knowledge of French was required (nor a translator like last week’s WaPo for those who knew there was such a thing as a binary translator)… most of the puns/homophones were fairly common crosswordese (lait, c’est, eau etc.) and I thought it was fun and cute. “lay to waste” isn’t great but it works for me on a punny level.

    • David L says:

      DIEUPROMISE is way off, in terms of pronunciation. Many people seem to be under the impression that French ‘eu’ is pronounced ‘oo’, but it’s more like ‘uh.’

      I was watching the Olympics the other night and there was a French skier with the last name Ledeux. The tv commentator kept calling him Ledoo, even when the on-course announcer had just said his name correctly.

      • Philippe says:

        There was also a very famous Mario Lemieux. Indeed, the right pronunciation for dieu is something like diuh and nothing close to due. The others ones are close enough.
        On a side note WaPo’s T/I/N/A Turner was a real riot.

    • R says:

      Pronunciation puzzles seem to be divisive. A lot of people seem to think that wordplay should not extend beyond semantics, and a lot of other people seem to think that the idiosyncratic ways they think they pronounce things invalidate the clues/themes.

  3. Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

    This was a very nice Sunday morning. Loved the NYT, as noted above, and LAT, UNI & WaPo were all rock-solid “turn familiar term into something else” type puzzles. WaPo had a lot of colors, which was not surprising, given the theme, but John’s DENVER OMELET and Fiona’s APPLE STRUDEL were delicious!

  4. Billy Boy says:

    2/20 Sunday NYT a really stupid idea and great example of why when I start them I only am interested enough to finish them 15-20% of the time

  5. Tim Mor says:

    Just to say how much I enjoy your posts … explains the stuff I miss. So, a favor: I am addicted to the NYT Pun/Anagram puzzles and manage to suss out all the clues but this time there is one that i just do not get — would appreciate any explanation:
    22A : ispeP, e.g. with an answer of ADOS.

    any insight why?

  6. Reid says:

    NYT: I wish something different would have been done with the down clue “split.” I had DIVERGED, a totally fine answer, and the two different letters are the last letter of a latin motto and the start of a french word. I had no chance of finding my error.

    • David L says:

      I had DIVERGED at first too, but then couldn’t make any sense of the fake French phrase. I realized it had to be CESTCHEESE and that allowed me to find DIVORCED. But I agree, it was a poorly thought-out spot in the puzzle.

    • scrivener says:

      I was right there too. The Latin and French crossings left me no chance at all.

    • Eric H says:

      That’s where my streak died. The puns in the rest of the puzzle were so lame that gEST CHEESE was close enough to “just cheese” (which of course isn’t a real phrase, but WTF). And who really cares about Missouri’s motto (which I bet not one in 50 Missourians knows)?

      I spent a third of my time on this puzzle trying to find my error and finally gave up.

  7. Scott says:

    NYT. I had KATE and ALLIE rather than BERT and ERNIE which was wrong.

    And OK was in the puzzle twice. Not cool.

  8. scrivener says:

    In case it comes in handy for a future NYT Sunday, the Hawaii state motto is Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono. The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

  9. JohnH says:

    I’m usually the first to defend puns that don’t really work, on the grounds that puns by nature or convention are often groaners. But the NYT seemed way too off even for me, especially REINE and DIEU. The whole puzzle rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t even groan.

  10. Bill Harris says:

    The biggest flaw is that there is no common theme. Some theme answers use the true French pronunciation to form punny phrases but others have to really strain and twist the French words. This is a fatal issue and I’m surprised puzzle was accepted. I also see the rating is below 2.5. Deservedly IMO.

  11. Bill Nichols says:

    The biggest flaw is that there is no common theme. Some theme answers use the true French pronunciation to form punny phrases but others have to really strain and twist the French words. This is a fatal issue and I’m surprised puzzle was accepted. I also see the rating is below 2.5. Deservedly IMO.

  12. Martin M. says:

    As usual no LAT review. Why not just hand the Sunday review page over to Rex Parker? I’m outa here!

  13. Phil A says:

    What gives re the Sunday LAT review. It’s been months since anything other than a star rating has appeared.

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