Sunday, August 28, 2022

LAT untimed (Gareth) 

 


NYT untimed (Nate) 

 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  

 


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 

 


USA Today 4:01 (Darby) 

 


WaPo About 45 minutes start to finish (Jim Q) 

 


Ori Brian’s New York Times crossword, “Animal Hybrids” —Nate’s write-up

We’re headed to the zoo in today’s Sunday NYT puzzle! Let’s dive in:

08.28.2022 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

08.28.2022 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

– 22A: BREAK THE ICE [Get a party started? [bee, hare tick]]
– 28A: WET BLANKET [Buzzkill [bat, elk, newt]]
– 34A: PARKING SPACE [A little of a lot? [carp, pig, snake]]
– 47A: WATERMELON PATCH [Locale of many vines [cat, elephant, worm]]
– 62A: BATHROOM SCALE [Something you might step on by the shower [cobra, moth, seal]]
– 78A: GENERAL HOSPITAL [Long-running soap opera that debuted in 1963 [ant, gorilla, sheep]]
– 91A: GLOBE THEATRE [London landmark [beetle, hog, rat]]
– 98A: GOLDEN GATE [Bridge that’s painted International Orange [dog, eel, gnat]]
– 108A: CROSSBREEDS [Mixes animal species … as eight answers in this puzzle do?]

What a fun, well-executed theme! Each themer is an anagram of the trio of animals at the end of its respective clue, showing what happens when you hybridize those animals. I appreciated that no animals were repeated throughout the puzzle, that every themer was thoroughly in-the-language, and that the puzzle felt dense with theme. Why do I want to bet that Ori originally named this puzzle Animal Crossing (after the super popular video game franchise) and the title was changed in editing?

Also, kudos to Ori for making such a smooth grid – it feels like one of the cleaner Sunday NYT grids this year, which made it even more of a pleasure to solve.

Other random thoughts:
– 15A: PIN [Spare part?] – This was cute!
– 31A: PAWNS [Subjects of some promotions] – Fun misdirect here
– 83A: MENU [One might be accessed by a QR code, nowadays] – To my dismay!
– 5D: ALKALIS [Lime and soda, e.g.] – Clever! This clue is trickily referring to lime (calcium oxide) and soda (sodium carbonate), both basic materials.
– 21D: LANCE BASS [‘N Sync member who later became a gay rights activist] – I love seeing shout outs to the LGBTQ+ community!
– 99D: OCHO [Number of planetas en el sistema solar] – How strange to not just have the full clue in Spanish, especially since there are so many cognates that make it not too hard to figure out what the clue is saying.

PS – Shout out to everyone in New York for Lollapuzzoola! I hope you had a great time and I’m only majorly jealous to have missed it.

PPS – Today’s puzzle reminds me to shout out the fun new anagram game, Anigrams, made with love by two people from within our very own crossword community, Adam Wagner and Rafael Musa. Each day, you get a set of letters to anagram into a word. After figuring out that first word, you get an additional letter and need to figure out a totally new word that all the letters anagram to, and on and on. It’s a fun challenge with cute animal graphics and (thankfully for me!) kind hints. Check it out!

 

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

Before I get to this mind-bender of a puzzle, I want to note that this will be the last time I will regularly blog the WaPo. New, upcoming responsibilities at school will make it impossible for me to give it the attention it deserves. Plus, after… five years?… I think a new perspective is in order.

I quite literally stumbled upon Evan’s puzzles a long time ago. I was rushing out the door to play piano for a local high school musical production, and I needed something to distract me during the tedious rehearsal. I had solved all my regular puzzles for the day, and somehow— through a link or a Google search— found devilcross.com. It was a freshly launched independent crossword site, and I printed the single puzzle it offered and headed out.

I don’t remember how many musical cues I missed that night due to that puzzle, but I was hooked. The devilcross puzzle was uniquely clever, featuring a cluing style that was a voice all its own. The indie crossword concept was new to me (I think it’s fair to say there weren’t all that many indie sites at the time), and I was thrilled that it existed. The hardest part was sitting on my hands waiting for the next puzzle to come out. I knew I had hit upon brilliance, and I must admit, I enjoyed knowing that this secret little site existed while the masses flocked to the bigger publications.

So what I’m saying is— and yes, I will continue to say this at every opportunity I get for many years to come— I was a huge Birnholz fan before most of his audience today knew who he was. And to have the experience to regularly critique and comment on his puzzles (a position I fell into because a sub was needed one day… and then I just stayed) has been a distinct honor.

And I can’t really imagine a better puzzle to go out on than this one.

THEME: Meta! Something to do with “Secret Agents” if the title is any indication.

META EXPLANATION:

WaPo crossword solution * 8 28 22 * “Secret Agents” * Birnholz

Step 1: Solve the puzzle

Sometimes, with a meta, you finish the grid and have no clue what differentiates theme answers (or entries that can lead to the meta answers) from regular fill. That can be frustrating. This is not the case in this puzzle. If you successfully solve this puzzle, then you can’t help but discover there are four names of fictional secret agents hidden in the black squares. They are:

  • SMILEY
  • BOND
  • PEEL
  • BOURNE

Grid with Agents revealed, courtesy of Evan

And hey… let’s say you’re not into solving meta puzzles. Stop right there. You still had a good solve. Perhaps it feels a little thin of a theme for a 21x, but just that much is pretty darn brilliant. Take a moment to enjoy the Birnholzian standard that the regular fill on both sides of the hidden agents are still valid crossword fill. For instance, in BOURNE the first letter of that entry is clued with AHAB and BOOP. But with the hidden in a black square, AHA and OOP appear instead, both perfectly valid bits of crossword fill.That happens forty times. The fact that this is expected from Evan should not overshadow just how mind-blowing that is.

For those ready to delve deeper in the meta, we have a note. For me, solving from the .puz version offered on this site, it says

You are a special agent looking for a secret dossier. After finishing this puzzle, visit herbach.dnsalias.com/WaPo/Dossier where you must enter a four-digit code (Note: Enter the same code in the User and Password fields). The dossier will give you clues about how to find the two-word phrase that is this puzzle’s meta answer.

Well, what could that code be?

Often times, the key is hidden in the bottom right corner of the puzzle. And indeed it is here. The entry MOLE is clued [Secret agent … and a word whose letters, when applied to this puzzle’s secret agents, hint at a four-digit code]. So, let’s apply MOLE somehow!

Step 2: Apply MOLE to the secret agents. 

Well, at least one of each of those letters appears in the names. In order there is an M in SMILEY, and O in BOND, an L in PEEL, and an E in BOURNE. In SMILEY, the M is in the second position. Could that indicate a number?

  • SMILEY… POSITION 2
  • BOND… POSITION 2
  • PEEL… POSITION 4
  • BOURNE… POSITION 6.

Could the code be 2246?

Step 3: Enter the code into the link as instructed then say “no way” aloud.

Martin has set up a special password protected page in order to access the rest of the puzzle. The solver is met with this when visiting the provided link:

Then, once the password is entered, we get another downloadable puzzle:

NO WAY!

Step 4: Solve the next puzzle.

A SECRET PUZZLE!

This little guy is an 11 x 11 and a fairly simple solve. So puzzlers exhausted after the much tougher 21x can rest easy. I had this filled in under three minutes.

There are some clues to nudge the solver in this puzzle too. Namely the clue for NAMES [Code ___ (things often assumed by secret agents … although some use their real ones)] and WORDS [Code ___ (terms that form a secret message … like four answers in the larger puzzle that correspond with four clues found in this dossier)]. The wordiness of at last one made my head spin a bit. But a click came relatively soon after. I mean, with the first puzzle in mind, there are some NAMES that stick out in this one.

  • JASON, clued [Character in classic horror films] is also the first name of Agent BOURNE. 
  • EMMA, clued [Golden Globe Award-winning actress Stone] is also the first name of Agent PEEL. (EMMA PEEL is new to me btw)
  • GEORGE, clued [One of the Beatles] is also the first name of Agent SMILEY.
  • JAMES, clued [NBA star who was selected first overall in the NBA draft] is also the name of Agent BOND.

Ok. Now what?

Step 5: Apply clues for those names to the larger puzzle.

The nudge in the clue for WORDS really gave me anxiety as I tried to parse what it meant. I mean, I was a Manhattan or two deep at the time, so I’m sure that didn’t help. Instead, I simply asked myself WWBD? What Would Birnholz Do? Knowing his puzzles so well (and I’m pretty sure I have solved all of his puzzles published for public consumption) offers its perks. Here, the clue for EMMA [Golden Globe Award-winning actress Stone] made me initially think SHARON, and I vaguely recalled filling in a SHARON in the larger grid. And hey… that clue [One of the Beatles] seems intentionally broad, doesn’t it? Well, if you find four entries in the larger grid that also work for those clues, you will arrive at the meta.

They are:

  • [Character in classic horror films] IGOR
  • [Golden Globe Award-winning actress Stone] SHARON
  • [One of the Beatles] PAUL. (***typo fixed… see Martin’s comment below)
  • [NBA star who was selected first overall in the NBA draft] YAO

And taking the first letter of each of those entries (the most common of meta tropes) gives you I SPY

Simply brilliant. Jaw-droppingly so. I haven’t looked yet, but I’m predicting that this puzzle has been rated poorly by some because it is a meta and, for some reason, raters who don’t like that puzzle type will one-star it simply because it is a meta and not for its merits. But ignore those. This is just wonderful. So tightly conceived from start to finish. The “secret agents” are indeed “secret.” They lead to a secret code to find a secret dossier. The dossier has hidden CODE NAMES that point you back to the true MOLEs of the puzzle.

I mean, whaaaaaaa?

With puzzles this mind-bending, I completely forget about the fill and whatnot in the rest of the grid. I remember struggling at one point and maybe perhaps giving rare side eye to a crossing I didn’t think was all that fair, but that’s such a drop in the bucket compared with what amounts to a smooth-as-butter meta that offered just the right amount of resistance and mystery. Unbelievable.

I stopped rating a while ago, but for old times sake: 5 stars! A big 5 stars at that.

And what a puzzle for me to go out on.

Thank you, Evan, for this one, and all of them. There’s truly no such thing as a bad Birnholz puzzle. Nor a mediocre one at that.

What’s more, I truly appreciate how available Evan has made himself with my questions and comments. He always responds to my emails, and in each puzzle he has sent me ahead of its publication date, he has included an apt (often hilarious) music video link. Once in a while, I’ve posted them here. But more often than not, I liked to keep them to myself.

Knowing this was my last regular write-up, he sent me five this time:

Goodbye for now!

Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Bad Sports”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar phrases of the form X and Y or X, Y, and Z are re-imagined as if they were basic instructions for various sports.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Bad Sports” · Rebecca Goldstein · 8.28.22

  • 23a. [Relay race 101?] GRAB AND GO. Excellent start to the set.
  • 25a. [Rugby 101?] TOSS AND TURN. Leaves out the bit about running toward the try zone, but still good.
  • 36a. [Cheerleading 101?] TWIST AND SHOUT. Good.
  • 48a. [Double Dutch 101?] HOP, SKIP, AND JUMP. If you didn’t think this was a sport, the New York school system would disagree. It made Double Dutch its official sport back in 2008. (Its previous official sport was cricket.)
  • 63a. [Bowling 101?] STOP, DROP, AND ROLL. Close! Except the bit about stopping.
  • 78a. [Football 101?] BLOCK AND TACKLE. The perfect entry for this theme, I’d say.
  • 91a. [Archery 101?] POINT AND SHOOT. Excellent.
  • 105a. [Weightlifting 101?] PUMP AND DUMP. Also very good.
  • 108a. [Marathon 101?] EAT AND RUN. I was going to quibble about the eating part, but prepping for a running race always involves carbo-loading the day before. So this one is actually spot on.

A wonderful theme. I wouldn’t have thought it could sustain itself with enough entries and enough sports, but I was happy to be proved wrong. It’s consistent, imaginative, well executed, and lots of fun. Kudos!

Despite nine theme answers, there’s still some fun fill—some of it crossing two themers like YOUNG ADULT, GOOSEBUMPS, and RUSH ORDER. Also good: EYEBROW, CHARADE, OLD MEN (to counter the YOUNG ADULT), BIG RED chewing gum, BUN PUP (diner hot dog), and ALL PROS. The only sticking point for me was SHISO [Japanese herb], especially where it crossed SUSIE [Comedian Essman], but the I seemed like the only reasonable choice.

SOBA delivery (photo by Mainichi Shimbun – The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints)

Clues of note:

  • 59a. [Noodle once delivered by bicycle]. SOBA. I can’t imagine most people knowing this bit of trivia, and there’s nothing inferable between the noodle and bicycle delivery. But there’s an interesting history here (spoiler: it was the wealthy people who got their noodles delivered).
  • 97a. [Lines of credit?] ODE. A new cluing angle for this old standby? I needed 2/3 of the crossings.
  • 60d. [Greek celebratory shout]. “OPA!” I’m happy to see this cluing. Much more fun that [German grandpa].

A fun and flowing Sunday grid. 4.25 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Broken Link” —Darby’s write-up

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer splits the letters in LINK, making them broken links.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Broken Link" solution for 8/28/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Broken Link” solution for 8/28/2022

  • 15a [“‘Hmm…’”] LET ME THINK
  • 28a [“Subgenre of drum and bass”] LIQUID FUNK
  • 59a [“Profession”] LINE OF WORK

This theme was as I expected, though it feels particularly apt since my own WiFi has led to a few broken links as of late. I thought that the theme answers were unique, especially in the brevity of the clues for LET ME THINK and LINE OF WORK. I was unfamiliar with LIQUID FUNK, so I relied entirely on the crosses. As a side note: LIQUID FUNK gained attention in the early 2000s, and the “liquid” element of the title references the “ambient or atmospheric feeling” elements that connect it to EDM.

All of this filled in pretty smoothly for me. PALM SUNDAY and GARAGE were both fun bonuses, and the crossing of the 41a & 42d [“Dinner table protector”] PLACE MAT and COASTER were both a fun bonus, as were the paired 52a and 62a [“Singing voice type”] BASS and ALTO.

This puzzle did not make me say 63a [“‘Ugh, here we go…’”] OH BOY. It was QUITE fun!

Kevin Shustack’s Universal Crossword, “Relieving the Pain” — Jim Q’s write-up

This one was painless, ironically.

THEME: Phrases with OW in them more than once. I think. *not really… I figured it out whilst writing about it. 

Universal crossword solution · Relieving the Pain  · Kevin Shustack · Sunday. 08.28.22

THEME ANSWERS:

  • HOW NOW BROWN COW. That one has four.
  • BOW CHICK-A-WOW WOW. That has three. Also it’s clued as “rhyming,” which I don’t really hear. WOW doesn’t rhyme with WOW and the BOW part seems too far removed.
  • UPSIDE DOWN FROWN. Two in that one. OHHHHHH! I see what’s happening now!
  • NIGHT ON THE TOWN. There’s one there. SO… the “pain” is gradually being “relieved.”

I like this one a whole lot better now that I sussed it out. Had I solved and not written about it, I’m relatively sure I wouldn’t have noticed the OWs diminishing.

A bit odd that there’s another OW / WO connection with WOMEN in the bottom left. That feels unclean to me. In a theme like this, I don’t think those letters should abut one another anywhere else. WOWED also kinda disrupts the theme. So does MOSCOW. And ON LOW.

Some fun stuff:

  • [Wine whose name anagrams to “be calm”] MALBEC. Love this. It’s apt.
  • [Corn dog, to a Canadian] POGO. Fun to learn!
  • [This stinks!] ODOR. Fun one.

Erm:

  • WISES as an active verb clued [Mouths (off)]. Okay. Sure. It has to cross two theme answers, so forgiven.
  • WAS IN / ON LOW / ONE UP / ISR / AS DO I (not ME TOO as I originally entered… that appears elsewhere in the puzzle) that whole middle section is a bit shivery.

Fine idea, and I do love the “pain” receding. But something feels incomplete about it. It lacks a resolution. Like, there’s still pain at the end with the single OW. What makes it stop? And what about the four other OWs in the puzzle that aren’t in the theme entries? Do they get any love?

2.75 stars from me.

Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’s LA Times crossword, “Game for Anything” — Gareth’s summary

LA Times
220828

The Sunday puzzle by Gary Larson & Amy Ensz features phrases with settings for sports events, repurposed to be interpreted to be referring to same:

  • [Track competitions for nudists?], MEETSINTHEFLESH
  • [Cross-country competitions for grounds workers?], COFFEERUNS
  • [Football competitions for Pepperidge Farm employees?], GOLDFISHBOWLS
  • [No-holds-barred competitions for mixed martial artists?], STRIKEANYWHEREMATCHES
  • [Field competitions for electricians?], CURRENTEVENTS
  • [Baseball competitions for collectors of compact cars?], MINISERIES
  • [Boxing competitions for comedians?], BOUTSOFLAUGHTER

Gareth

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40 Responses to Sunday, August 28, 2022

  1. JohnH says:

    Darned if I know how to rate this puzzle (so thus far haven’t). I predict that ratings will be all over the map.

    On the one hand, it’s clever and so hard to pull off. (Who’d have found those?) Then, too, I’m a huge anagram fan (and a cryptic fan, not just for that alone), although I know that many are not.

    On the other hand, I’m still trying to convince myself that it matters. You get the answers and, if you’ve the patience for what, admittedly, is merely tedious, you can write out the letters so that you can cross them off to verify that (yea!) it works out. So I leave it to others to debate over whether the puzzle is a real find or a bore.

    • huda says:

      NYT: I agree it’s not easy to call it, because it does seem like a fun theme and excellent construction, with no repetition and with clean fill. But from the point of view of the solver, it was possible to do the puzzle without worrying about the animals at all, and I think this took away from the impact. There was one case where I was a little stuck– the WATERMELON PATCH… I looked at the animals and it helped me put MELON in there.

    • Josh M says:

      “You get the answers and, if you’ve the patience for what, admittedly, is merely tedious, you can write out the letters so that you can cross them off to verify that (yea!) it works out. So I leave it to others to debate over whether the puzzle is a real find or a bore.”

      Exactly. Anagrams suck. I still can’t believe the whole “point” is that the clue contains all the letters of the answer, but in a different order. Painful. This puzzle was pretty decent as a themeless, though.

    • marciem says:

      I’m in the same boat. I mean, the Daily Jumble used to be one of my favorite things when I was a kid, I don’t mind anagrams a bit. But with this puzzle… I understood that the answers contained all the letters, but that didn’t help me get the answer. And once I had the answer to each theme clue, what was the point to go back to check?

      It was a fine themeless, IMO… the animal crossings were extraneous. I do prefer a themed puzzle for Sunday-sizes, but this theme didn’t work well for me.

      • JohnH says:

        MarcieM speaks for me exactly, as Josh M does not, grateful as I am for my comment working for him. (As I said, some people just don’t like anagrams, but that shouldn’t mean puzzles should avoid them.)

        One way to look at it is that I often take for granted that a long anagram in a cryptic will work out, unless I need to verify, say, that I spelled the entry correctly. Here there was no way around ticking off the letters without disregarding the theme entirely, which does not make the process any less boring. (Looks like I was right about ratings all over the map.)

  2. Martin says:

    Evan’s WaPo is a tour de force. It’s up now. Do not miss it, especially if you’re into metas. It’s got two.

  3. Gary R says:

    NYT: Anagrams are not my cup of tea, so the theme didn’t do much for me (didn’t get it until after I had finished the puzzle). But the answers were sufficiently familiar that the theme didn’t get in the way. So it played like an easy-ish themeless for me.

  4. Erhan says:

    Give Cross Breeds is an entry in the puzzle I can’t imagine Animal Crossing would work as a potential title ….

  5. Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

    Loved the WaPo as a puzzle. Can’t remember the last time a puzzle made me laugh out loud in delight. Hated the meta. Too cute. Still had to give it a 5 for sheer delight as a puzzle.

  6. Steve says:

    Jim-

    I find it quite the coincidence that your last entry about the WaPo Sunday is also the first time I’ve ever had a DNF with it. I don’t like having black squares needing letters, especially on an iPad. And I think I’m just completely burned out on metas in general, let alone ones that make me go to websites. After seeing the solution I’m glad I stopped after about 10 minutes (and I did see “Bond” for what it’s worth). I figured most would disagree with me though.

    Best wishes to you in the future!

    • GlennG says:

      “I find it quite the coincidence that your last entry about the WaPo Sunday is also the first time I’ve ever had a DNF with it.”

      I agree. Ditto (more or less) – most of the time, just like the metas are mostly empty space to me and usually drag down the construction of most puzzles that feature them, the intended thing on any of these gimmick puzzles miss me most of the time and turn into something less than elegant. More or less, I had 40 errors on it for that reason (rebuses instead of black squares, albeit the right things), which might as well be a DNF.

      But overall, I can definitely agree with the statement, minus a couple of exceptions. Evan Birnholz does good work.

    • Art Shapiro says:

      I saw quickly what was going on, but for some reason found it extremely tedious. One of the rare times I decided to just close it down a quarter of the way completed without bothering to go further. Can’t really say why it didn’t float my proverbial boat. Guess it happens.

  7. David L says:

    NYT: I’m pretty good at anagrams but they were barely necessary here. Kind of a thin theme, I thought.

    WaPo: Great puzzle, as we’ve come to expect, but I had no idea how to get the 4-digit number. I noticed that the letters of MOLE appeared in the names of the agents. But SMILEY has M and E, PEEL has L and E, BOURNE, has O and E, so I didn’t see any unambiguous way to proceed.

    I’m with Steve on having lost interest in metas generally. Every now and then there’s one so easy even I can figure it out, but mostly they involve some sort of trick or insight that eludes me, so if I can’t see a way forward quickly I lose enthusiasm for any further effort.

    I like solving crosswords (duh!) but it seems to me that the kind of thinking one needs to solve metas is something else entirely, and I don’t have it.

    The good news is I no longer get annoyed by being unable to solve most metas. I have simply decided they are not my cup of tea, and that’s that.

    • Gary R says:

      “I noticed that the letters of MOLE appeared in the names of the agents. But SMILEY has M and E, PEEL has L and E, BOURNE, has O and E, so I didn’t see any unambiguous way to proceed.”

      But of the four, only SMILEY has an “M” – so that’s him. After SMILEY is gone, only PEEL has an “L” – so that’s her. After PEEL is gone, the “E” must be BOURNE, and then the “O” must be BOND.

      • Pilgrim says:

        I figured the names wouldn’t just be placed randomly in the grid, so I looked at them from top to bottom:
        sMiley->bOnd->peeL->bournE

  8. Adam W says:

    Hey, thanks Nate!!! And we promise today’s NYT theme wasn’t a branded Anigrams partnership, just a happy coincidence lol

  9. Martin says:

    Little error in the fine write-up of WaPo: the other Beatle is PAUL, not PEEL.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Yeah … I didn’t quite get that and will probably never understand how people figure out most meta solutions. They all seem so convoluted and and esoteric to me. I guess my brain just doesn’t make the necessary connections.

    • Jim Q says:

      Oops! I guess I had PEEL on my mind!

  10. Nina says:

    Hi, I’m trying to post about July 30, but the site is not allowing it. I’m late to this posting

    1) I had a question about one of the NYT answers. I absolutely did not understand the answer of “open seat” for reason to run. I hope someone can explain.

    2) I notice someone was commenting about puz files. I don’t know if people already knew about it, but someone on Reddit has created a workaround for NYT puz files. It works great.

    • marciem says:

      Hi Nina…

      1. a. An open seat in the House or Senate would be a reason to run in an election for it.
      b. another guess would be that in a game of musical chairs, an open seat (when the music stops) would be a reason to run.
      2. I haven’t seen reddit, here at this site weve had strong recommendations for Crossword Scraper as a work around to get puzzles in Across lite (and other file types). Scraper also works great.

  11. Charles Montpetit says:

    Re WaPo writeup, which states that “EMMA PEEL is new to me”: Oh Jim, you lucky lucky guy, this means that you have yet to discover the entire “Avengers” series, and one of the strongest female characters in the entire secret-agent canon (though I’ll admit that some kitschy aspects of the series may have aged poorly). Start with season 4. And kudos to Evan for including Ms. Peel in what would otherwise have been an unfortunate all-male spy lineup.

    • Jim Q says:

      I will have to check that out! There are some glaring holes in my knowledge of what many would consider “the basics.” Anything sports related for one (most of what I know about sports I learned from crosswords). And anything Marvel. But I look forward to discovering that character!

      • marciem says:

        Jim…don’t be fooled by “The Avengers” name. Emma Peel is not in the Marvel universe at all. The tv show “The Avengers” with Emma Peel and John Steed characters was a British espionage series that ran from 1961 to 1969 (per wiki). It was a great show! Season 4 is when Diana Rigg started, Honor Blackman preceeded her, with “kinky boots” :D .

        • marciem says:

          p.s. Honor Blackman is she who played Pussy Galore in the Bond film “Goldfinger”.

        • marciem says:

          And I just learned via wiki that Emma Peel got her name during the hunt for someone who had “man appeal”… i.e. M. appeal. Yes, this was the 60’s and some things don’t age well. But her character was strong and smart and funny.

        • Jim Q says:

          There I go, flaunting my ignorance once again. Thanks for this. Now I’m even more intrigued

  12. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    WaPo: Even more than the Thursday NYT puzzles, Birnholz’ Sunday puzzles are almost always super-gimmicky. Here the crossword is just a vehicle for the actual puzzle. Tolerated, but not loved, certainly not to the level matching the effort that went into constructing the thing.

    This one was more easily attacked by concentrating on the Acrosses and not bothering to separately record the names of four spies spelled by missing letters, guess that the letter positions translate to a numeric code, and enter that for the treat. I didn’t bother with the post-crossword puzzle, just read about it here.

    • Jim Q says:

      “Birnholz Sunday puzzles are almost always super-gimmicky”?!

      I have a problem with that for a couple of reasons:

      1) You’re just plain wrong. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say closer to one in five or six or so puzzles features something “out of the norm,” or what you are calling a “gimmick.”
      I have regularly pointed out how varied the themes and styles are. There are just as many “basic” themes that welcome solvers of all levels. There are Themelesses. There’s the “Captain Obvious” series. Basic letter switch themes. The list goes on and on.

      2) The bigger beef I have with your comment is the connotation that comes with the word “gimmicky,” especially with the word “super” in front of it. It cheapens it bigly. I can think of more than one constructor whose work I would describe as “gimmicky,” but Evan is not one of them. Far from it.

      Thursday type themes and metas aren’t for everyone, for sure. And they’re clearly not to your liking. But I am thankful that Evan includes these types of puzzles in his rotation. I’m certain I am not alone there. Come back next week. Or the week after. One of those will likely be your cup of tea. No need to minimize someone’s excellent and thoughtful work just because you do t particularly care for it.

  13. Gary R says:

    WaPo: This is only the second or third meta I’ve attempted. Made it part way, but couldn’t close the deal – I got to the dossier, recognized the four clues I was supposed to focus on, but then focused on the four answers rather than the clues. Oops! Fun experience, regardless.

  14. Karen says:

    WaPo: KUDOS! To Evan for a puzzle that is nothing short of phenomenal! What a fun solve. Loved every minute.

    And to Jim for your past 5 years of Sunday WaPo write-ups. Thank you for your excellent insight and comments . Wishing you an excellent year ahead and good luck in your new responsibilities.

    • +1. Thanks a million to Jim for volunteering his time in all his great reviews of my puzzles. He’s as classy as they come (both in personality and literally, being a teacher) and I hope I’ll see more of his own puzzles out in the universe some day even if he won’t be blogging on Fiend.

      And thanks, Karen!

  15. For those commenters who’ve said here in some way that they have no interest in solving metas (often but not always in response to mine): I get that metas may not be your strong suit, but I genuinely have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish in making a statement like that.

    Is it just to blow off steam from trying to solve a meta that was hard and not getting to the final answer? If so, then fine, whatever. I’ve struggled on solving plenty of metas too.

    Or are you trying to sway me into avoiding metas altogether? Because it sure sounds like that every time I see some vague comment like “Evan does good work but I didn’t bother trying to figure out the meta.” I like metas. It’s already well-established that I like publishing them from time to time. I’m more than happy to share them with a big audience for which many people may not be accustomed to doing them, but might get hooked on a type of puzzle that I think is really fun. I’ll do the same thing for any other kind of crossword that I think I would enjoy solving myself, easy or hard.

    • David L says:

      When you first started including metas among the WaPo puzzles, I was one of those who moaned and complained because I felt you were imposing a new type of puzzle on an audience unprepared for them.

      But as I said above, I am older and wiser now and I treat metas with placid indifference. If I can see the answer quickly, hooray for me, but if not I don’t spend any more time worrying about it.

      As long as the underlying puzzle is good — and yours almost always are — I have no objection to you throwing in a meta from time to time. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that.*

      *irony

  16. BavinBrielle says:

    WaPo: (first time commenting) I only got back to doing crosswords last summer to help my aging brain focus more. My first encounter with a meta was Evan’s Haunted House last Halloween. I worked on it for seven days and got about half of the meta before giving up. I studiously read and re-read Evan’s analysis and Jim Q’s post to see what I missed. It was the most fun I ever had with a puzzle!

    I’ve gotten better with metas and thought I had this one but I missed the I SPY ending! Duh! Thank you, Evan, and keep those metas coming! Thank you, Jim Q, and godspeed … you’ll be missed!

  17. Michele and Mary says:

    Jim Q, my mom and I have really enjoyed your write ups. We sometimes enjoy them more than figuring out the puzzle!! We are going to miss reading your fun takes on the clues and fill. We will definitely miss reading your meta solves, as we often aren’t able to solve them on our own. Thanks for the smiles and laughs and best of luck with your new responsibilities!

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