Sunday, August 21, 2022

LAT 9:15 (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 4:02 (Darby) 


WaPo 18:42 (Jim Q) 


Brooke Husic and Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword, “Stacking Up” —Nate’s write-up

Do you ever see a byline and just know it’s going to be a stunner of a puzzle? That was my feeling when I saw our co-constructors’ names today, and I was so pleased to be right! Wowwwww.

08.21.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

08.21.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

It’s tough to do a themeless well, much less one this open and with so many incredible long entries. Bravo to the pair! What a smooth grid, indeed. Perhaps the only square I truly had trouble with was at the crossing of ARGOTS and PASSACAGLIA, but I was glad to learn of both entries and intuited the G correctly.

Here were some of my favorite of the longer entries:

– 6A: AFROLATINA [Singer Celia Cruz or actress Rosie Perez]
– 20A: TIME WILL TELL [“We must wait to see what happens”]
– 53A: FACE TATTOOS [Indicators of status in Maori culture]
– 63A: GAY PRIDE PARADE [Where many people walk out?]
– 105A: DO ME A SOLID [Informal favor request]
– 32D: DONT SASS ME [“That’s enough lip out of you!”]
– 36D: POWER RANGER [“Mighty Morphin” TV character]
– 43D: METER READER [Utility company professional]
– 47D: ROOTY TOOTY [Descriptor for IHOP’s Fresh ‘N Fruity pancakes]
– 57D: NEOPRONOUNS [They don’t express gender]
– What are NEOPRONOUNS, you ask? Read up on them here!

And some of my other favorite clues:

– 23A: OATH [Legal profession?]
– 78A: OTC [Like Plan B, for short]
– Timely and matter-of-fact
– 4D: AREA [Side-by-side calculation] – Clever!  Length x width (or side x side)

A super joyful solving experience and #constructorgoals feelings from someone who only wishes they could build puzzles that play this smoothly. I hope you enjoyed it, too. In the comments, let us know your favorite entries!


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

Themeless time!

WaPo crossword solution * 8 21 22 * “Themeless No. 20” * Birnholz


  • 4D [“Out of the question!”] DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! Took me forever to see this one, but those long pillars are so satisfying to  enter, aren’t they?
  • 15D [“Things really got out of hand fast”] THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY! Another fun one.
  • 64A [“Here’s one of my favorite scenes”] I LOVE THIS PART. 
  • 58D and 59D [Complainer’s display] ATTITUDE/WHINING. 
  • 71D [“False” statement?] YOU’RE A LIAR!
  • 97A [6 of diamonds?] SHORTSTOP. The diamond being the baseball field. The sixth position being shortstop. I love to show off my minimal sports knowledge.

My favorite kind of themeless is one where I feel like I don’t know any of the clues. And somehow, it all fits together eventually. For me, that is almost always the case with Patrick Berry “difficult” themeless puzzles. But this had that exact same feel today. It’s interesting how knowing the constructor’s work influences how I feel during the solve, however. What I mean is that I *know* that when I’m solving a Berry or a Birnholz puzzle that it will come together, and it will be satisfying. So when I pass through the clues the first time and can only confidently enter a small handful of answers, not only is that a good thing. It’s great. I can’t say I would feel the same if I didn’t trust the constructor.

Not a heckuva lot of unfamiliar stuff. All fairly crossed and fun to figure out. Here’s a partial list of new ones for me after a quick scan of the completed grid: Cornelius DREBBELSUNI LEE (I just looked her up… looks like her full first name is SUNISA), DOLMAAVILAESTEBAN Ocon (took me a while to see, despite my nephew’s name being ESTEBAN).

The only clue I grimaced at was [___ of passage]. Of course I wanted RITE, but I didn’t enter it because it was calling for five letters. It took me a while before I convinced myself it was RITES. I think it’s a bit deceiving of fill-in-the-blank entries to mess around with plurals.

The BOATED/OPT IN/CRASH ON/HAS/TELETHON/ODDITIES area fell last for me and took a lot of elbow grease. I’m still having trouble seeing HAS as a perfect substitute for [Isn’t missing]. Oh wait… it works in this sense: “He isn’t missing his keys” “He has his keys” Ok. That makes sense now. I was thinking along the lines of “The dog isn’t missing…” “The dog… has?”

Other things of note:

  • [Local guy who “always thought he’d squander his life differently,” per a July 2019 headline in the Onion] AREA MAN. Love when the Onion makes a clue appearance.
  • [Tragic play that helped inspire the drama “Empire”] KING LEAR. I don’t know how I never saw the connection between the play and the show. It’s so obvious now!
  • [“Through the Looking-Glass” character who suggests that Alice start as a pawn] RED QUEEN. I wonder if she makes an appearance in the OPERA by Unsuk Chin.
  • [Keane who created “The Family Circus”] BIL. Crossword constructors must be relieved that there’s a BIL out there with one L. I find “The Family Circus” a bit dated, but BIL Keane will live forever in crossword puzzles.
  • [U. no.] GPA A fun, quirky way to start the puzzle as it sounds like “you know”

Thanks for this one!

Gary Larson and Doug Peterson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “AddS to the Mix”—Jim P’s review

Theme: The letter S is added to certain words in familiar phrases to wacky effect.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “AddS to the Mix” · Gary Larson and Doug Peterson · 8.21.22

  • 23a. [Vegan food fest?] GREENS PARTY.
  • 32a. [Item on a ballerina’s clothesline?] HANGING TIGHTS.
  • 52a. [iTunes or iMovie, once?] JOBS APPLICATION.
  • 70a. [Heading for a New York newspaper’s delivery schedule?] WHEN THE TIMES COMES.
  • 92a. [Free samples?] GOODS FOR NOTHING.
  • 108a. [What skinny jeans might reveal?] BRIEFS OUTLINE.
  • 124a. [Rags-to-riches accomplishment?] NO-MEANS FEAT.

I feel like adding an S to words is the low-hanging fruit of add-a-letter themes, so this didn’t do a lot for me. And I tried and failed to make sense of “the mix” in the title. I wanted there to be some other constraint to tighten the theme, but it seems there isn’t one.

The theme lost me with WHEN THE TIMES COMES, which feels awkward (it’s an adverbial phrase and all the other entries are noun phrases), and its clue is ungainly. There have to be dozens of phrases with “time” in them that would lend themselves to a humorous change. How about “Stop wasting my Times” or “It’s my Times to shine!”?

All that said, the puzzle is consistent. Each word changes meaning by the addition of an S; it’s obviously not about making words plural. And with the exception of the entry above, the other base phrases are at least solid, if not fun.

The long fill is definitely fun with the likes of “DON’T GET CUTE,” HEAVY METALS (as on the periodic table), KID SISTER, and OVERHYPED. Both VAPE SHOP and NBA STARS feel a bit green-painty, but they aren’t so bad. The latter is definitely better than the oft-seen NBAERS. And there are some enjoyable sixes as well, like “ARRIBA!,” “I’LL TRY,” LADY DI, and Lupita NYONGO (whose name is just fun to say).

Clues of note:

  • 11d. [Drink with a Mango variety]. PEPSI. With the S in place, I filled in LASSI. Little did I know LASSI would show up at 31d with the same clue! …Hol’ up. There’s a mango Pepsi?! How does that work?
  • 43d. [Blackjack surfaces]. TABLES. Hmm. “Surfaces” doesn’t feel right here.
  • 64d. [“Shrek!” author William whose surname bookends “steady gig”]. STEIG. Know your St**gs! William STEIG wrote Shrek! and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Stieg Larsson wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  • 81d. [Name within “Marshall”]. HAL. Marsha’s in there, too.

The theme doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s solid nonetheless. Smooth and enjoyable fill. 3.25 stars.

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

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Chop Down" solution for 8/21/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Chop Down” solution for 8/21/2022

  • 9d [“Wide-legged garments”] GAUCHO PANTS
  • 13d [“Athlete aspiring to make the Summer or Winter Games”] OLYMPIC HOPEFUL
  • 27d [“Major clay court tennis tournament”] FRENCH OPEN

The theme here was very straight forward, and I was able to fill in all three of the themers with ease. OLYMPIC HOPEFUL is definitely my favourite of the three. The asymmetry in this grid allowed for three different lengths, with GAUCHO PANTS at 11 letters, FRENCH OPEN at 10, and OLYMPIC HOPEFUL at 14. The puzzle felt like it tilted left a bit with OLYMPIC HOPEFUL closer to FRENCH OPEN than GAUCHO PANTS.

On top of the themers, we got a few Across answers that felt like they could’ve been themers in another life, with TOP BILLING and FOOD COURTS at 15a and 60a respectively. It was also entertaining to see a few creatures swim through this grid, with TORTOISES, NESSIE, and KOALA both featured prominently in the center.

Other things I noticed:

  • 12a [“Solo for Sumi Jo”] – Sumi Jo is an opera singer, who won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording. The familiar “solo for” in this clue let us know right away that it was an ARIA, but I enjoyed learning more about this South Korean performer.
  • 22d [“Drag queen Velour”] SASHA Velour is a gender-fluid drag queen and artist who won the 9th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and performed in her own one-queen show, Smoke & Mirrors.
  • 25d [“Tend to tteokguk”] – Tteokguk is a rice cake soup that is often eaten on Seollal, the first day of the Lunar calendar. You can check out this recipe to learn more, including when to STIR it.

Samuel A. Donaldson & Doug Peterson’s LA Times crossword, “We’ve Moved” – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

“We’ve Moved” by Samuel A. Donaldson & Doug Peterson features a couple of less-seen theme wrinkle. For one, the “US” referred to by “We” in “We’ve Moved” is more precisely the sound “əs”. This is removed to the phrases in the first half of the grid, but in the second half the sound is added. In all cases, it is a sound addition / subtraction rather than a letter one, and spellings are adjusted as needed. This is requires a lot more imagination IMO. The downside, as always, is if you don’t pronounce the words the same the answers tend to fall rather flat.


  • [Command to Alexa?], YOUCANNOTBESIRI. Everyone heard that as John McEnroe, yes?
  • [Like one who nailed the Kylie costume?], JENNERTOAFAULT. Generous. If you’re my age and from my cultural background then Kylie without a surname = Minogue.
  • [Stocking stuffer for Fido?], CHRISTMASBONE. Bonus. I see a lot of damage caused by feeding dogs bones, especially chicken bones, that love to turn into a kind of cement inside…
  • [Roman who tried to stop Brutus?], CAESARSPAL. Palace. But wasn’t the whole thing that Brutus was his pal?
  • [Pumice stones, emery boards, etc.?], CALLUSTECH. CAL-TECH.
  • [Headline about Condoleezza’s gaffe?], RICEERRONEOUS. RICE-A-RONI.
  • [Rucker’s song catalog?], DARIUSPRODUCTS. DAIRY. I’d pronounce those vowels ɑ: and eə respectively, which aren’t remotely similar.
  • [Painting depicting angels?], PIECEOFTHEPIOUS. PIE.

Five other clues:

  • [Girl Scout cookie also called Caramel deLite], SAMOA. I could Google, but I’m sure someone would enjoy the satisfaction of explaining why it has that name…
  • [“Yummers!”], DELISH. Inferrable, but I’ve never heard anyone say that. Yummo, yes.
    [First name in civil rights], CORETTA. Not a lot to discern from the clue. Google suggests she was as per the clue, surname Scott, later married to one Martin King.
  • [“¿Cómo __ usted?”], ESTA. Literally a shortening of “How is your grace?” Usted is when you’re so formal you refer to someone in the 3rd person. It happens in English, but it isn’t standardised!
  • [Peppermint Patty’s pal], MARCIE. Who >did< refer to Patty in the third person…


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22 Responses to Sunday, August 21, 2022

  1. Gary R says:

    NYT: Didn’t realize this was a themeless. Given the title – “Stacking Up” – I thought there was a theme based on the proliferation of double letters in Down answers. Seemed a little weak to me – I guess I was overthinking.

  2. Bryan says:

    NYT: I was amazed to get one of my fastest Sunday solve times ever on this one. Truly an astoundingly constructed grid with all the long stacks. I would like to hear from Brooke and Will whether the plethora of double letters throughout the whole puzzle was intended to be part of some possible theme or whether it was just coincidental. Seemed like way too many repeating letters to be just happenstance.

  3. Eric H says:

    NYT: “Do you ever see a byline and just know it’s going to be a stunner of a puzzle? That was my feeling when I saw our co-constructors’ names today, and I was so pleased to be right.”

    I wish I felt that way. Brooke Husic and Will Nediger are two of my favorite contemporary constructors, but this was a bit disappointing.

    Yes, it’s an amazingly dense construction, with a boatload of debut answers and almost no junky fill.

    But with few exceptions, the clueing was awfully straightforward. Some of the long answers, like PASSACAGLIA, FACE TATTOOS, and GAY PRIDE PARADE, had some sparkle, but others were ho-hum.

    Maybe I’m a bit grouchy because I had three typos I had to track down at the end.

    • Ethan says:

      Well a Sunday themeless has to be more straightforward. Sunday is supposed to be easier, per Will, than Friday or Saturday.

      I think the sparkling fill is the delight here, not clever clueing. But man would I have loved to see this puzzle clued at a Saturday level.

    • JohnH says:

      I suppose it’s personal, but this one was more than hard enough for me, thank you. I guess I just wasn’t on the right wavelength. My last to fall was the Seattle team, where the sports fact was made harder (worse to my mind) by THE. The crossing of DO ME A SOLID, ARIE, and TANA was well nigh impossible.

      Now, I have trouble anyway with a Sunday themeless. Hard for me to keep going with tricky fill on the scale of a Sunday without a theme to motivate me. But that, too, is only a matter of taste, and I realize that Crossword Fiend types often see any theme as at best a distraction and ones that I find clever, such as a rebus, abhorrent. They’re, shall we say, believes in the purity of crosswords for their own sake.

      So I won’t rate this puzzle, but clever enough in its own way.

  4. PJ says:

    NYT and Wapo – Put me down for more themeless Sundays. I enjoyed both.

  5. Michael says:

    Not sure where else to discuss the NPR puzzle… did anyone else catch the runner-up entries to the challenge whose winner was announced this morning? At around 1-minute mark Will gives an honorable mention to an entrant who used the letters of “New Mexico” to come up with the following: “Native educational wisdom makes eradicating xenophobia its core obligation.” Huh? That’s nearly a pangram, short of F, J, Q, Y and Z. The listener took the two-week “creative challenge” to the whole new level.

    (There’s also a transcript of the runners-up available at the bottom of the puzzle page –

    • placematfan says:

      I empathize with your wanting to discuss but wondering where the discussion is. Fwiw, I just Googled “NPR puzzle blog” (without the quotes) and without even scrolling down saw a Blaine’s Puzzle Blog that looks like it might be what you’re looking for, a Reddit page, a Facebook page, and a Google Groups page. I mean not to say “You’re in the wrong place” or anything like that, just that “Google is your friend”. :)

    • Nnnes says:

      It’s an acrostic. It doesn’t follow the rules, but it seems Will liked it anyway.

  6. marciem says:

    WaPo: 31a: Am I the only one who confidently dropped in Norman for “Mailer of letters” on first pass-through? Yep, got me, thought I was so clever haha!

  7. gyrovague says:

    NYT: Overall a chill, Wednesday-esque experience, which is quite the feat given so many squares in play and no theme to use them up. Some random thoughts…

    • As a fan of most things dance-related, I loved seeing HULA DANCERS and being challenged by the unknown PASSACAGLIA.

    • I cracked up at the clue for METER READERS. Imagining someone racking up a huge debt over several years in pursuit of that elusive post-graduate meter-reading degree.

    • Props to W.S. for continuing to rebut fact-challenged sorts (i.e., Trumpers and their ilk) with entries like 3-Down’s ERRONEOUS. See also from earlier this year TRUE (Clue: Like facts, but not fiction) and FACTS (Clue: Not just beliefs).

    • In that same vein I appreciated seeing FONDA clued as Actress/activist Jane as she transitions from Grace & Frankie to full-time social justice warrior. Go Jane!

    • And finally, I bet I’m not the only one humming the Shawn the Sheep theme song thanks to 1-Across. Can’t say I mind though.

    • pannonica says:

      “Props to W.S. for continuing to rebut fact-challenged sorts (i.e., Trumpers and their ilk) with entries like 3-Down’s ERRONEOUS. See also from earlier this year TRUE (Clue: Like facts, but not fiction) and FACTS (Clue: Not just beliefs).”

      Isn’t that a pathetically low bar?

      • gyrovague says:

        Yes, it is. And it’s a sorry state of affairs when any editor might feel the need to remind folks that facts are simply facts, regardless of one’s beliefs. But that’s the world we live in.

        • sanfranman59 says:

          So I take it then that you didn’t really buy into Kelly Ann Conway’s concept of “alternate facts”, huh? [smh]

        • Gary R says:

          Wait – this was Will reminding us that facts are simply facts, as opposed to him just publishing clues/answers that are fairly straightforward?

          If you go looking for social/political commentary in the NYT crossword, I’ll bet you can always find something to be annoyed by (or maybe pleased by). But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a straightforward clue/answer is just that.

      • Leah says:

        Yes, but this puzzle also had OTC clued as Plan B, which I appreciated. Good to acknowledge basic health care as such.

  8. Mary+A says:

    For me, this puzzle was a pleasant challenge, but I managed to complete it with 1 errant letter—the first “t” in “bitte.” I thought of “”hat tree” but never corrected the errant “s” (“biste” sounded right to me).

    Yes, there were many clever clues, but I thought “passacaglia” and “Tana” were obscure (to me at least). Nonetheless, I got those correct.

    • pannonica says:

      In German, “you are” is Du bist. That’s the familiar “you”. More formally it would be Sie sind. Anyway, that might be why BISTE seemed plausible to you.

  9. Mister [Extremely] Grumpy says:

    Do you ever see a byline and just know it’s going to be a stunner of a puzzle? Yeah
    Do you ever see a byline and just go … oh f***? Today
    Did not bother solving, which is rare for me, but that NW corner was a middle finger.

  10. JohnH says:

    Agreed. I can’t share the consensus that it’s an easy puzzle, and I may never like themeless Sunday, but I admired it all the same. Challenges have their appeal.

Comments are closed.