Sunday, September 25, 2022

LAT untimed (Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal 3:49 (norah)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today 5:26 (Darby) 


WaPo  6:13 (Matthew) 


Meghan Morris’s New York Times crossword, “Take Two” —Nate’s write-up

It looks like some aliens invaded this puzzle’s theme answers, and it’s up to us to find out what happens when we send them packing:

09.24.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

09.24.22 Sunday New York Times Puzzle

– 23A: ELECTRICAL OUTLET [What’s in your wallet?]
– 32A: FAKE NEWS [Press junket]
– 43A: SHAVING CREAM [Barbershop quartet]
– 49A: GEOLOGIST [Rocket scientist]
– 68A: USERNAME AND PASSWORD [Security blankets]
– 92A: INFLATION [A drop in the bucket]
– 95A: EXTERMINATOR [Ticketmaster]
– 106A: DRIBBLES [Ballet movements]
– 121A: WORKING WITHOUT A NET [Has no plan B … or, when parsed differently, what each of the starred clues does vis-a-vis its answer?]

Reparsing the revealer gives us our aha moment: if we’re WORKING through this puzzle WITHOUT AN ET in each of the themers’ clues, those clues make a lot more sense! An ELECTRICAL OUTLET is indeed what’s in your wall, FAKE NEWS is indeed press junk, etc. I really enjoyed the aha moment in this theme and was really impressed with a lot of the finds! So many of the clues felt quite natural / in-the-language phrases, and I loved the reinterpretations of their ET-less versions. The revealer isn’t the most exciting to me (I might have preferred something more specific like ET GO HOME), but I still very much enjoyed going back to revisit each themer after the light bulb went off. Also, was [Maker of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game] for ATARI at 70D an Easter egg here? It seems odd to affirmatively include E.T. here, especially since we want the themer clues to be ET-less, but I am very likely overthinking that part.

My only difficulty with this puzzle was a bit of the north and SE sections of the grid. I couldn’t figure out ALL OF / FAKE NEWS / KEG for the life of me, and the GOT WISE / IN ON bit stumped me, too. [Cottoned on (to)] was certainly new to me. I can imagine ENOS / TSWANA could be a tough crossing for many folks.

Other random thoughts:
– 1A: TWERK [Do some backup dancing?] – Does it hint to my age that I got grumpy when MOONWALK didn’t fit here?
– 74A: SNL SKIT [“Black Jeopardy!,” for one] – For me, this is a great example of an entry that could have easily been clued through a white lens but wasn’t. I wish the puzzle had taken a similar approach at 109D by cluing EBONY via the magazine.
– 82A: CLEO [Letters to ___ (rock group)] – I will candidly admit that I got Better Than Ezra confused with Letters to Cleo here.  My only defense is that the start of the school year always scrambles my brain a bit!
– 81D: OPTICKS [Sir Isaac Newton work on the fundamentals of light] – I did not enjoy this spelling at all, but who am I to argue with Newton!
– 93D: LOAN OUT [Give for a time] – It felt odd to have this directly after [Excavated, with “out”] at 91D.

Nate Cardin on Wheel of Fortune

Nate on “Wheel of Fortune”

All in all, I quite enjoyed this puzzle and am curious to see if folks can come up with other reimagined ET-less phrases. What did y’all think? Let us know in the comments – and have a great week!

PS – As a fun aside, I’m excited to share that I’ll be on Wheel of Fortune this week! Tune in this Thursday 9/29 to see if the wheel indeed had any fortune for me. (Check your local listings for time and channel.) I can’t say anything about the episode until it airs but, as you can imagine, it was a dream come true for this word nerd to even be a contestant!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Raise Your Glass”—Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Raise Your Glass,” 9/25/2022

Mirror symmetry, and some short answers that don’t match the clues — [25a *Retreats in the woods] for LOG isn’t far into the puzzle. So what’s going on?

First, to the revealer, at 117a [“Cheers!” … and a hint to how six words in this puzzle have been raised by one row] DRINK UP. Looking more closely at the starred clues, the appropriate answers are there, working over black squares and back down to the next across entry. In the case of 25a, it’s LOG, the CAB of MACABRE, and INS [26a OFficeholders] to form LOGCABINS, a more sensible answer to [Retreats in the woods]. And we’ll see that each raised section is a type of (alcoholic) drink, fitting the revealer and title:

  • 25a [*Retreats in the woods] LOG-CAB-INS.
  • 49a [*Prolonging] DRAG-GIN-GOUT; -GIN- also part of [45a Dodge machines] ENGINES
  • 73a [*SNL actor who played the Ladies Man] TIM-MEAD-OWS; -MEAD- also part of [89a “Can I just say…”] LET ME ADD
  • 76a [*Patrons] SUP-PORT-ERS; -PORT- also part of [72a Certain 4×4, informally] SPORT UTE
  • 102a [*Law office assistants] PAR-ALE-GALS; -ALE- also a part of [97a Caster of Renew and Rejuvenation spells in “World of Warcraft”] HEALER
  • 105a [*1987 Eric Carmen song with the lyric “Now I’ve got you in my sights”] HUNG-RYE-YES; -RYE- also part of [100a Devices for spinning tops?] DRYERS

Whew! We’ve seen this theme mechanism before, but it catches me all the same. Consider that each theme entry requires two rows and three entries, and that block placement is an active part of the theme presentation, rather than something fit around the skeleton of the entries. I also notice that the theme entries are the only places where this mechanism could work in the grid — there’s no block of three or four black squares between entries not being used in the theme. How’s that for elegance?

No time for notes from me today – thanks to Evan for the early brain workout!

Drew Schmenner’s Universal Crossword, “Alternative Spaces” — norah’s write-up

THEME: “Spaces” given ? clues rephrased as types of “rooms”


Universal, D. Schmenner, 09-25-2022

Universal, D. Schmenner, 09-25-2022

    • DANCE STUDIO 17A [Wiggle room?]
    • SHE SHED 25A [Escape room?]
    • BLACKBOXTHEATER 38A [Dark room?]
    • HOME GYM 49A [Press room?]
    • BEAUTY SALON 61A [Cutting room?]

Drew brings together a set of “spaces” rephrased in “alternative” ways and given question mark clues. All five of the entries are actual rooms/spaces, while the clues differ in their literalness: 17A [Wiggle room?] isn’t a real room, but the other four are. Breaking this particular crossword “rule” doesn’t bother me as a solver, because they are all still fun and interesting. They are also easy to figure out without requiring any special knowledge, making for a super breezy solve.

Other favorites: BADASS 7D [Incredible person, slangily], DEATHMETAL 10D [Genre for Possessed], DAY 10A [One lasts 1,408 hours on Mercury].

Can we get a little justice for Jean Valjean!? THEFT 68A [Jean Valjean’s crime]. He stole a loaf of bread, robbed a house, broke a window, to feed a child who was close to death and for that, he gets *nineteen* years? Five for b&e, and another fourteen for fleeing the scene. smh.

Crossword synergy of the day: NEE 63D [Jennifer Affleck, ___ Lopez]

I learned about “The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo.” ELMO 1A [Muppet with a talk show].

Thank you Drew!

Rebecca Goldstein’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Funny Business”—Jim P’s review

Theme entries consist of familiar phrases of the form “Xs and Ys” that are re-imagined as being apt names for businesses.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Funny Business” · Rebecca Goldstein · 9.25.22

  • 23a. [Apt name for a bowling alley?] BALLS AND STRIKES.
  • 39a. [Apt name for a tailor shop?] PINS AND NEEDLES.
  • 50a. [Apt name for a hair salon?] BOBS AND WEAVES.
  • 70a. [Apt name for a bank?] CHECKS AND BALANCES.
  • 90a. [Apt name for an improv studio?] BITS AND PIECES.
  • 99a. [Apt name for a used car business?] WHEELS AND DEALS.
  • 120a. [Apt name for a comedy club?] HOOTS AND HOLLERS.

Very fun theme, and I found every answer to be spot on. I wouldn’t be surprised if this theme had been done before in some form (I haven’t checked), but even if it had, that shouldn’t take away from a very nice puzzle.

Plenty of fun long fill, too: BELLY RUBS, FIRST LADIES, “I GET IT,” “I CAN’T TELL,” and THE GOAT. I had to give a big side-eye to CHEESE PULLS though, since I have never heard the term. But apparently it’s a thing, and since I’m watching football while blogging, I’ve seen more than a few CHEESE PULLS during commercials. Not everyone likes them, though.

Clues of note:

  • 16d. [East Wing occupants]. FIRST LADIES. I read the clue as “East Wing residents” and thought it was odd. But that’s my own problem because The Office of the First Lady is in the East Wing.
  • 114d. [“Life ___ all beer and skittles”]. ISN’T. Contrary to how it appears, this isn’t a modern term. Apparently it began life in The Pickwick Papers (1837) with the line “It’s a reg’lar holiday to them – all porter and skittles.” Lest you think Dickens was “tasting the rainbow,” recall that skittles was a nine-pin bowling game before it was ever a candy.

Nice puzzle. Four stars.

Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’s LA Times crossword, “Plush” – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’s theme today is “Plush” or “plus h” with each phrase having an aitch added to it at the beginning of one of it’s words. We get 7 examples, of the nearly infinite possibilities, with two pairs crossing, for what that’s worth:

  • [Dormitory where honor roll students sleep?], {H}ALLFORTHEBEST
  • [Ingredient for discerning brew masters?], SPECIAL{H}OPS
  • [Take care of eggs by sitting on them?],{H}EATLIKEABIRD
  • [Learns about crops like maize?], {H}EARSOFCORN
  • [Cheap toupee?], BUDGET{H}AIRLINE
  • [Light-up pumps?], ELECTRIC{H}EELS
  • [Weekly night for leftovers?], {H}ASHWEDNESDAY

Fast five:

  • An interesting mini-theme of named weaponry: [Name of Davy Crockett’s rifle], OLDBETSY and [Name of B.B. King’s guitar], LUCILLE.
  • “Fun Factory” clay, PLAYDOH. Is that a range?
  • [Help for a tight fit], SHOEHORN, although this is used figuratively more often these days.
  • [“Joy Shtick” writer/comedian], BEHAR. Amusing title.
  • Hidden Nile theme: [Sacred Nile bird], IBIS and [Colorful clog], CROC!


Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Boxed In” —Darby’s write-up

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer is bracketed by letters spelling out BOX.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Boxed In" filled grid

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Boxed In” solution for 9/25/2022

  • 17a [“British name for a South Asian snack”] BOMBAY MIX
  • 36a [“French port city known for its wine”] BORDEAUX
  • 56a [“Metric by which Captain America would be classified as obese”] BODY MASS INDEX

This was an interesting mix of themers. I think BOMBAY MIX, which is a snack made up of dried ingredients including fried lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, corn, and puffed rice, among other things, was such a fun answer. BORDEAUX was surprising, given that it didn’t split BOX across two words. However, BODY MASS INDEX is a powerhouse of an answer, pointing out how stigmas around weight are so unrealistic.

If you’re hungry, I would recommend not solving this puzzle until you’ve had a snack of some sort. There were mentions of 62a [“Edible seaweed types”] NORI, 35d [“Eateries that serve croquet as and chopitos”] TAPAS BARS, 3d [“Fruits needed for tom yum”] LIMES, 4d [“Highly marbled Japanese beef”] KOBE53d [“Sauce for canned chipotles”] ADOBO, 38d [“Seafood appetizer”] CALAMARI, and of course BOMBAY MIX. I also really enjoyed 18d [“Trip up a mountain”] ASCENT and 11d [“Streak left by a good cry”] TEAR STAIN (love a good cry).

Overall, I thought that this was a really smooth Sunday solve!

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13 Responses to Sunday, September 25, 2022

  1. Me says:

    Nate, that is very cool that you are coming up on Wheel of Fortune! I know that some crossword folks have been on Jeopardy. Have there been others on Wheel of Fortune? I definitely got better at Wheel of Fortune when I started doing a lot of crosswords. I think crosswords help you think about what to do with a series of blanks with only a few letters filled in.

    • Nate Cardin says:

      Thanks! I know that Scott Earl was on Wheel of Fortune within the past year and did well for himself, solving a tricky WORK UNIFORM bonus round puzzle, but I’m not sure other than that. Crossword skills certainly helped, but it’s all up to that dastardly wheel and how much luck you get on the day!

  2. Barnyard says:

    NYT: Clever theme with pretty minimal junk fill. Nate – so cool. Can’t wait to watch.

    How about KIM KARDASHIAN [Hollywood’s greatest asset]

  3. JohnH says:

    Most people found the NYT on the easy side and free of junk fill. I had difficulty, which seems only to be expected given nine themers, most long. That makes it harder to get a foothold to figuring out the theme.

    But surely they also constrain the fill, and I did have a lot of tough spots. Not so much ENOS, since if a crossword wants a Biblical name it’s always him, Adam, or Eve (and anyway he does appear early in one of the world’s oldest, most popular, and most often cited books). Its crossing in TSWANA, in turn crossing the revealer, did make things harder. But I had lots of worse crossings: DWADE / DESI / ETON (in a sense other than school or collar), ARIE / SIA (maybe my worst), TWERK / WALE, and more. (TWYLA for me is only Tharp, I’m afraid, but fair crossings.) Lots of sheer guessing.

  4. marciem says:

    NYT: Nate, I don’t think you’re overthinking that addition of ET / Atari in the clues. I noticed it too, and thought it an easter egg :) .

    CONGRATS on W.O.F.!! I can’t wait to watch :) . I have it set to record, in case I brain-blip on Thursday !

    I really did love this puzzle, the revealer and “aha’s made it fun. BUT, that SE did me in a bit, with a lot guesswork at the end on the Tswana/gotwise/ranby crossings, even after the revealer and all the rest of the puzzle was done. Kind of left a small bad aftertaste, but I still think it was a great puzzle.

    WaPo… more brilliance by EB this week! I really enjoyed this one, and didn’t catch on until the “drink up” showed itself. Those AHA’s are what makes solving crosswords fun for me.

  5. David L says:

    Both the NYT and WaPo were hard than normal for me this week. I had an error in the NYT: I know the word DESI at 123A and that’s what I put in at first. But then I had no idea about the basketball nickname at 106D and the shirt brand at 127A, so I settled on DWANE and ETON because I couldn’t imagine that DWADE was likely, and thought maybe NESI was some kind of kin to DESI. That corner was unfair, IMO.

    WaPo: I finished the puzzle but couldn’t make sense of the starred answers until I came here.

  6. dh says:

    I was thrown by the crossing of 106D and 123A; I had never heard of either of them and finally settled on guessing an “N” as the crossing letter, figuring “Dwane” might be a variant of “Duane” or “Dwayne”, and “Nesi” likewise for “Nisei”. And “Lignum Vitae” did not fit as 109D.

    I had never heard of “TSWANA”, but it was an easy enough guess when thinking of Botswana.

    “Moonwalk” doesn’t show one’s age IMO (but I’m a boomer, so who knows?), but twerking is not “dancing” in my world. Not even if Kim Kardashian or JLo are doing it. I wonder how many offspring of orthopedists are going through college as a result of this fad? (Chubby Checker made a significant contribution to my own tuition).

    • Gareth says:

      Many of the Southern African countries, except for South Africa, are named for their major tribe: baTswana in Botswana, baSotho in Lesotho, emaSwati (or Swazi) in eSwatini. The three major African ethnostates absorbed into South Africa without a surviving homeland (the first 3 became British protectorates in order to retain their cultural identity during colonialism) would be the amaXhosa, the amaZulu and the baPedi.

  7. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Clever theme that was well-executed. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but when I did, I used the theme to sort out the SW corner. EZRA Jack Keats was new to me, and I mistakenly thought “Jaguar’s spot” was a sports clue (Jacksonville, I think? Basketball?)

    Is it just me, or is there an extra D in Tim Meadows’ name? (That was someone else I was unfamiliar with.)

    Stuff I learned: HOT BOX and the meaning of “emir.”

  8. Eric H says:

    Universal Sunday: Mostly a fun theme.

    Jim P writes, “I had to give a big side-eye to CHEESE PULLS though, since I have never heard the term.”

    Same here. I googled the term and the first thing that showed up was the so piece Jim linked to. Coincidence? Algorithm?

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