Sunday, August 7, 2022

LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 4:56 (Darby) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


David C. Duncan Dekker (under the pseudonym of Tina Labadie)’s New York Times crossword, “Letterplay” —Nate’s write-up

Edited to add: Apparently, this puzzle was made under a pseudonym and it is unclear as of now whether the NYT team knew about it or not. I’m guessing they did not:


We have a New York Times debut with this Sunday’s puzzle, and gosh is it a multi-layered exploration of all things “Letterplay.” Apologies in advance if I don’t catch all the theme-adjacent content!

08.07.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

08.07.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

– 25A: AT AN ANGLE [Not true?]
– 68A: TRIPLE A [Top credit rating … or a hint to 25-Across]

– 27A: UNIQUE USER [Visitor to a website, in analytics lingo]
– 71A: DOUBLE U [23rd in a series … or a hint to 27-Across]

– 42A: SAM ADAMS [Beer named for a founding father]
– 52A: TWO AM [D.S.T. starting time … or a hint to 42-Across]

– 97A: HUSH HUSH [Secretive]
– 90A: FOUR H [Club for farm kids … or a hint to 97-Across]

– 115A: VOODOO DOLL [Spelling aid?]
– 89A: FIVE O [Cops … or a hint to 115-Across]

– 118A: OIN OIN ONE [Baseball announcer’s call on a home run]
– 54A: ZERO G [Weightlessness … or a hint to 118-Across]

In each pair of theme entries, the second entry literally described the letter pattern of the first entry: AT AN ANGLE has three A’s (TRIPLE A), SAM ADAMS has two “AM”s (TWO AM), etc. I’m stuck on how DOUBLE U hints to UNIQUE USER since there are three U’s in that phrase, unless it’s that it’s a U___ U___ entry, regardless of whatever other letters are in the entry. If that’s the case, it feels a tad inelegant, since all the other theme pairs spell out how many of the certain letter are in the other entry, not the number of words that start with that letter. Or was TRIPLE A for AT AN ANGLE meant to indicate A___ A___ A___?

I’m guessing that the (G)OIN(G) (G)OIN(G) (G)ONE trick entry (ZERO G!) is going to be polarizing. Some will see it as an exception that justifies the rule, while others will likely see it as an inelegant entry that doesn’t match the others. I’m not sure where I land, but I’m glad the constructor went for it!

I’m also impressed by the symmetrical placement of all of the above theme entries -that’s not easy in a grid like this! This may have caused some compromise to the fill though; I’ll admit that I had a particularly tough time filling in the bottom left section of the grid, as entries like ELLE, LOBOS, SMOLT, and SAUD slowed me down.

Throughout the puzzle and clues, there were a lot of other references to letters to add to the “Letterplay,” including:

Theme adjacent content:
– 19A: SOCIALS [Bees, e.g.]
– 22A: CINEMA [The “C” of AMC Theatres]
– 34A: MASS [m, to Einstein]
– 45A: FORM [W-2, for one]
– 93A: TETRIS [Game with L- and T-shaped pieces]
– 131A: SNORES [Makes some Z’s]
– 5D: RAMA [Commercial follower of “-o-“]
– 6D: SLANG [A-game or b-ball, e.g.]
– 28D: QUIT [Ctrl+Q]
– 61D: BALLOTS [They’re filled with X’s]
– 73D: REF [One calling a “T”]
– 81D: PEAS [Vegetables that make a fitting addition to alphabet soup?]
– 116D: OATS [The “O’s” of Cheerios]

Maybe theme adjacent content?
– 35A: IDA [B.C. neighbor: Abbr.]
– 40A: SIZE [XL or 11C]
– 99A: SPAS [R&R settings]
– 104A: ELLE [Singer King with the 2014 hit “Ex’s and Oh’s”]
– 130A: NEWER [Like the Xbox One X vis-a-vis the Xbox One]
– 9D: KIT [D.I.Y. buy]
– 10D: OAHU [“Magnum, P.I.” setting]
– 13D: OGRE [D&D monster]
– 36D: DAB [Apply with a Q-tip, say]
– 41D: ENZYME [RNA polymerase, e.g.]
– 111D: ROTHS [Some I.R.A.s]

My favorite non-thematic clue was at 19D: SALADS [Introductory courses]. I liked the play on expectations there! What did you enjoy about this pangram of a puzzle? Let us know in the comments below. Congrats again on the constructor for her NYT debut!

Garrett Chalfin’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Expansion”—Jim P’s review

Theme: The letters EX are added to the starts of words in familiar phrases.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Expansion” · Garrett Chalfin · 8.7.22

  • 23a. [Uncovering a query’s many flaws?] EXPOSING A QUESTION. Posing a question.
  • 34a. [What Hamlet did at the start of his soliloquy?] EXCLAIMED “TO BE”. Claimed to be.
  • 49a. [Doesn’t beat an escape room?] EXITS TOO LATE. “It’s too late.”
  • 67a. [What a teacher gets after too many students request more time?] EXTENSION HEADACHE. Tension headache.
  • 84a. [Goal of a philosophy treatise, perhaps?] EXPLAIN TRUTH. Plain truth.
  • 98a. [City official with high standards?] EXACTING MAYOR. Acting mayor.
  • 110a. [Meeting on a fast train?] EXPRESS CONFERENCE. Press conference.

Fairly standard add-some-letters theme. The repetition made solving most of the entries quicker than usual, so the puzzle never felt like it bogged down. That said, such repetition meant I mostly filled in the entries on autopilot without any yuks or ahas. YMMV, of course.

Fave fill includes “BE COOL, MAN,” BEER BELLY, “HI THERE,” PLANET X, SAND DAB, and STAR ANISE. I stumbled quite a bit with RINGXIETY [Condition stemming from excess cellphone use] which I’d never heard before. Wikipedia has it listed as an alternative to Phantom vibration syndrome. I think I prefer the other alternative fauxcellarm. The other new-to-me term was AB WHEEL [Roller for a core workout]. My parents had one in ages past, and as kids, it was a fun toy for us. Never knew it had a name.

Clues of note:

  • 15a. [U.K. org. that announced “There is no news” on April 18, 1930]. BBC. Ha. Fun fact. Apparently they played piano music after the announcement.
  • 28a. [Passing comments?]. NOS. As in, “I’ll pass.” Not as in passing legislation. That would have the opposite answer.
  • 105a. [U.S. Pacific island]. GUAM. Come on, what a boring clue (he said, as a Guamanian). How about [U.S. island with a matrilineal society] or [U.S. island sometimes called a “permanent aircraft carrier”]?

Solid, though repetitive theme. Smooth fill. 3.25 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Make a Fist” —Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer contains the word FIST spelled out between two words.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Make a Fist" solution for 8/7/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Make a Fist” solution for 8/7/2022

  • 16a [“Two-speaker sound systems”] HI-FI STEREOS
  • 51a [“‘Winter’s King’ and ‘Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,’ for two”] SCI-FI STORIES
  • 60a [“Home to the Los Angeles Rams”] SOFI STADIUM

As soon as I spotted the theme here, it completely changed how these words were pronounced in my head because I started emphasizing FIST in each. Words are weird, right? Anyway, these were fun theme answers. I kicked myself for typing LO-FI STADIUM at first in the last, but that was pretty easy to correct with 49d [“Christmas tree trim”] TINSEL crossing to save the day. Also I loved both the cluing in 51a and the fact that 37a [“With 27-Across, franchise with droids and Darths] and 27a gave us STAR WARS to include three SCI-FI STORIES.

A few other things I noticed:

  • 9d [“Response to ‘Who, me?’”] – I laughed so much at this use of YES, YOU! Such a fun clue.
  • 10d [“It’s reduced during a digital detox”] – It’s crazy now how we talk about SCREEN TIME in terms of both social media and TV. When I was a kid, it just meant the latter.
  • 51d [“Nigeria ___ Eagles”] – The Nigeria SUPER Eagles are the country’s national football team and three-time winners of the Africa Cup of Nations. They first played games unofficially in the 1930s, with their first officer game in October 1949. Their first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations was in 1963.

I loved how smooth this puzzle was and had a great time with it! The asymmetry worked here really well, giving us SCREEN TIME and SUSHI BARS in addition to the three themers.

That’s all from me. See you in a while, CROCODILE.

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

THEME: Characters from movies/TV shows are broken across two entries.

WaPo crossword solution * 8 07 22 * “Breaking Character” * Birnholz


  • COOL YOUR JETS / AM RADIOS. JETSAM from The Little Mermaid. I’m not sure who that character is. I assume it has a counterpart named FLOTSAM. I just asked my girlfriend who is kind enough to drive to Cape May while I blog. She said he’s an eel.
  • OLD ELI / NORMANS. ELINOR from Sense and Sensibility. I assume I knew this character at one time since I definitely read it in college, but apparently I didn’t retain much.
  • HEINEKEN / NETHERWORLD. KENNETH from 30 Rock. I have limited knowledge of this show too, but I’m pretty sure I know this character. He’s the one who comes across as blissfully unaware, right?
  • PRIVATE RYAN / CYTOSINE. YANCY from The Waltons. Unfamiliar with both the show (despite how famous I know it to be) and the character.
  • GALLEON / ARDENT. LEONARD from The Big Bang Theory. Another huge show that I’m not that familiar with. People promise me I would love this one, and I probably would. It’s on the list!
  • HONOLULU / KEROSENE LAMP. LUKE from Star Wars. Yup. Never saw Star Wars either. But of course I know the character. I feel like I have seen Star Wars from decades of crossword solving.

And the thing that sets this apart from similarly themed puzzles is the wild Birnholzian layer:

JEKYLL and MR. HYDE are found spelled out in the first and last letters of the character names (which I’ve highlighted above in blue and red). As awkward as it is for JEKYLL to be missing his deserved title of DR., the theme wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Sometimes sacrifices like that are worth it, as I think is the case here.

That last element is pretty brilliant. Even without that as a constriction on the themers, these types of themes, where a hidden word is broken across two entries are much more difficult to construct than they appear. But with that added layer of needing very specific characters to appear across two common words/phrases? Yowza. And of course it gives each of the characters a split personality in a sense.

So this is a theme that I really appreciated even though I was unfamiliar with many of the characters. And CYTOSINE.

The fill was tons of fun though. And how bout that video clue for EMU? Hilarious! And I love that, once again, Evan is doing groundbreaking things with his puzzles. Including the video as smoothly as he did (and I assume with help from Amuselabs) was an excellent touch to one of the most common crossword animals that we’ve seen clued a gazillion times. In case you missed it, this was the clue for EMU:


I’m starting to get a bit carsick from typing while driving, and it’s awfully difficult to format on an iPad rather than my laptop. So I think I’ll end there, though I realize I’m being cheap by not pointing out so many of the clever clues I enjoyed.

Oh wait… I had beef with the RUN-ONS clue [What commas may fix]. My students overwhelmingly think that throwing a comma sans conjunction in the middle of a sentence fixes everything. So I even made a song about it to help remind them that a conjunction is necessary. So I tell them the opposite of what the clue states. Commas alone typically don’t fix the types of RUN-ONS I see ad nauseam.

Oh yeah.. never heard of the show SEXY Beast, but based on the description in the clue, I’m totally okay with that.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Universal Crossword, “Metal Heads” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Actors with the initials PB (the periodic symbol for lead)

Universal crossword solution · Zhouqin Burnikel · Metal Heads · Sunday. 08.07.22


  • [Star… or each {theme answer} based on his initials] LEAD ACTOR. 

Clever revealer that took me a moment before the AHA lightbulb moment. I saw the initials were the same quickly, but still couldn’t make the connection until a few more seconds than should’ve ticked by.

Second time recently that I’ve seen a “jewel box” mentioned in a puzzle! I always called them “jewel cases.” Am I alone there? Never heard them referred to as jewel boxes until recently.

PAUL BETTANY was unfamiliar to me, and I had ABC instead of BBC which was prohibiting me from seeing BROADWAY JOE, so I found that area difficult.

Like the fun fact for ERIE! I would’ve just assumed there were more fish in Superior.

Fun concept today, with a nifty grid to boot. Thanks!

3.5 stars

Scott Hogan & Christina Iverson’s LA Times crossword, “Al-addin” – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

Scott Hogan & Christina Iverson’s title is very cute, if leading: AL is added to make new “wacky” theme entries.

  • [Extremely harsh bubbly?], BRUTalCHAMPAGNE
  • [Enjoy a long career as a telegraph operator?], SIGNalONESLIFEAWAY
  • [To catch some rays or to sleep every day until noon, e.g.?], GOalONVACATION
  • [Income from Birkenstock investments?], SANDalDOLLARS
  • [Chef’s job?], MEalGENERATION
  • [Trying a new brand of ointment?], CHANGINGTHETOPICal
  • [Annual gala held on April 15?], INCOMETAXFORMal


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35 Responses to Sunday, August 7, 2022

  1. Mike H says:

    Count me as a fan of OINOINONE. Very clever!
    The SW tied me up for a while, but I made it.

    • marciem says:

      I was completely bamboozled by the oinoinone!! Had to look at the NYT site to finally get it…. so I love it!! Really a brilliant clue-response. I never got the “zero g” because I work in AL and there was no cross-reference noted for that answer so I didn’t know where to look for a hint.

      I too struggled in the SW…. no clue on Ibadan and Iphone wouldn’t come for me.

      My only down-mark agrees with Nate in that the Double-U reference has three U’s in the whole answer, and the puzzle theme wasn’t based solely on first letters, so that’s a bit inelegant.

      • Eric H says:

        Does AcrossLite not have the numerical cross-references for the theme pairs? They’re not really necessary given the highlighting in the NYT app.

        • marciem says:

          Nope, AL doesn’t have that :( I know it does on the NYT app., one (only?) downside of using AL.

          • Gary R says:

            Must be some sort of glitch. I downloaded to AL using Scraper, and I got all of the cross-references.

            • marciem says:

              I got the cross references in the original clues (i.e. the one for zero g) but not in the referenced answer… too lazy to go back to the portion of the puzzle I had completely finished to look-see if I could find what was going on. (my thought was “some new baseball lingo I don’t know)
              I believe (not sure) that the NYT app would have highlighted the referencing clue when I was on OINOINONE… my laziness, not a puzzle fault at all.

              just checked and yup the x-references are lit up on both clues.

    • JohnH says:

      I actually got the exception that proves the rule first, and I was looking forward to more trickery like that. But I grew to like the more simply descriptive themers. No doubt it helped to realize that 0 is a number, too, and there was no way to make sense of why ZERO G picked out G as missing other than that it was omitted.

      But yes, I could have lived without the sector containing IBEDAN and the like.

  2. Gary R says:

    NYT: More entertaining than the average Sunday, IMO. The theme was interesting, if a bit flawed, as Nate noted in his write-up. The fill seemed pretty solid to me. One nit to pick: 12-A JOISTS are not “beams” in the construction world – joists rest on, or are attached to beams.

    I thought there was a missed opportunity in the theme. We have themers that play off zero, two (double), three (triple), four and five – but no “one.” Seems like it would have been easy enough to have a “First year law student” clue for ONE L, and have the full series of 0-5 numbers.

    I also thought it might have worked to have the cross-reference answer for OINOINONE be “negative G,” but that might be a less familiar term than ZERO G.

    • Eric H says:

      The JOISTS slightly bothered me, too. I spent many hours building a large deck with beams running east-west and joists running north-south.

  3. cyberdiva says:

    I enjoyed the NYT puzzle, and I greatly appreciated Nate’s description of all the “letterplay.”
    However, I print out the puzzles, and I found myself mystified by the clue for 48 down. In my printed copy, the clue looked as if it were an “unequal” sign followed by the number 2. Unequal to 2? I scratched my head for quite a while. I finally realized that very likely what I SHOULD have seen was a #, not a = with one line through it. HELIUM is, indeed, #2 on the periodic table. I’m not sure whether anyone else encountered this, but I thought I’d mention it.

    • JohnH says:

      Curious, in the magazine it’s simply “Number 2 on a table.”

      • Gary R says:

        Even more curious, when you print from the web site and ask for the “Newspaper Version” of the puzzle (which I thought is supposed to be an image of the actual page from the magazine), it prints with the hashtag symbol.

        And FWIW, the version I downloaded into AL also prints with the hashtag. Maybe some sort of error that was corrected before I got to the puzzle.

  4. Eric H says:

    NYT: That’s an impressive debut, with a novel theme — one of the best Sunday puzzles in weeks. And there were enough tricky clues like the ones for SALADS and IPHONES to make it more fun.

    I didn’t notice the DOUBLE U/UNIQUE USER “flaw” until someone mentioned it in the Wordplay comments. Another Wordplay commenter posited that the third U in UNIQUE USER doesn’t really matter, since the second U in UNIQUE is silent. I’m OK with that.

    I wish I had tried to figure out OINOINONE by myself. It’s pretty clever. My excuse is that I had made some sloppy typos that I needed to find at the end, including Pearl Jam’s EeDIE Vedder, and I forgot to go back to that [g]one.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Not a debut, though. Just a somewhat toxic dude submitting the puzzle with a fake female name to up his chances of acceptance. That’s a low move.

      • d105 says:

        Interesting. So having a female name on a submission ups one’s chances of an acceptance?

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I don’t know that for certain, but the attention paid to ridiculously low rate of published newspaper crosswords by women suggests that a puzzle with a female byline might get a closer look.

          • Jose Madre says:

            know why Joanne Rowling chose to publish books under the pseudonym J.K. Rowling? Is that a good reason to use a pseudonym to get published but this is a bad one? Confusing

      • Eric H says:

        I see now that it wasn’t a debut.

        I don’t know why Mr. Dekker chose to use a pseudonym, much less a female one. Whatever his reasoning, I’m not amused.

      • Not my real name says:

        Hm. On the one hand, it’s difficult not to agree that that’s a low move. On the other, both as a solver and as an aspiring constructor, I’d be very disappointed to learn that the editorial team choose which crosswords (not) to publish based on anything other than purely on the merits of the crossword itself.

        I think that “a somewhat toxic dude submitting the puzzle with a fake female name to up his chances of acceptance” (and I assume that’s really the case, though do we know that for a fact?) is problematic, but not as problematic as a system which gives people incentives to do that in the first place (which, based on what I read here and elsewhere, seems to be the case, though I don’t know that for a fact either).

  5. Robin says:

    I thought the clue for 71-Across (DOUBLEU) should have pointed at 97-Across (HUSHHUSH) instead of 27-Across (UNIQUEUSER).

  6. Frank says:

    Yeah, yeah, a couple of technical errors in the theme cluing, which should be totally overlooked for a puzzle that was this much fun.

  7. Mr. [Moderately] Grumpy says:

    I don’t know who was responsible for the hyphen in the LAT title, but that was a VERY bad idea IMO. Sheesh. If you’re going to hit me over the head with the theme, why not just go ahead and fill in the grid for me? Universal Sunday did it the right way.

  8. Dan says:

    “an exception that justifies the rule”

    (I had no problem with the “oinoinone” entry, but)

    there is really *no such thing* as an exception that justifies a rule.

    This notion probably arose from misinterpreting the expression “the exception that proves the rule”, because when this expression first became current, the word “prove” was understood to mean “test”. It emphatically did not mean “confirm”.

  9. Thanks, Jim.

    Funny thing: I first learned about Emmanuel last month when a friend of mine shared one of those viral videos with me. I joked on Twitter that crossword constructors everywhere just got an amazing gift of a new clue for EMU. And somehow, maybe three or four days after I first saw that video, EMU dropped into this grid when I made it. There was no turning back after that.

  10. Seth says:

    The NYT was a delight for me. Sure am looking forward to more from puzzles from Tina!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Only it’s not newbie Tina, it’s a dude named David who doesn’t get his puzzles accepted when he submits under his actual name.

  11. Re: Jim Q’s comment “Commas alone typically don’t fix the types of RUN-ONS I see ad nauseum.”

    And however one defines the run-on (no punctuation, or comma alone) a comma will never fix a run-on. If there’s no punctation, which seems to be the scenario Evan B. has in mind, a comma alone won’t fix anything. It will just create a comma splice, a new problem (which some people also classify as a run-on).

  12. Ned says:

    Is it possible the constructor of NYT has come out as a trans woman? If we don’t know, we should give them the benefit of the doubt, right?

    • Eric H says:

      Thanks for mentioning that possibility.

      There was a trans woman constructor a few months ago who had several NYT puzzles published under her dead name.

      But if you consider that “Tina Labadie” is an anagram of “Ain’t a bad lie,” the likelihood that this is a case of a transgender person seems more than a bit smaller.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      No, he outed himself as the constructor who used a fake name.

  13. Leah says:

    Lots of comments saying this one was a lot of fun. I found it to be quite a slog. Never understood ‘going, going, gone’ for ‘oinoinone’ – I was thinking “oh in oh in one?” or “….none?” I just didn’t think that worked within the set. I was also bothered by the number of U’s in “unique user.”

    Plus, as mentioned, ephemera like Ibadan, Old Lyme (population <7400), smolt, stylet, etnas (??), aglare (the editor here is telling me that's misspelled, appropriately), lave, and then stuff like "time lag" (doesn't everyone just say 'lag' now?) and the duplication of 65D "rest on" and 73A "rely on," especially so close together. This one really fell flat for me. I'm glad others enjoyed, though!

Comments are closed.