Sunday, December 4, 2022

LAT untimed (Gareth) 


NYT 15:32 (Nate) 


USA Today 4:23 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo untimed (Matthew) 


Gustie Owens’s New York Times crossword, “Gossip Session” —Nate’s write-up

We’ve got a debut puzzle today, and from one of the members of the inaugural New York Times Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship! Let’s see what all the talk is about in today’s gossip-filled puzzle:

12.04.22 New York Times Sunday Puzzle

12.04.22 New York Times Sunday Puzzle

– 23A: SHARES AN ACCOUNT [A lover of gossip, the Netflix user …]
– 41A: HAS ALL THE JUICY DETAILS [The smoothie bar worker …]
– 59A: SPILLS THE TEA [The Boston Harbor worker …]
– 72A: STIRS UP DRAMA [The cooking show contestant …]
– 89A: AIRS THEIR DIRTY LAUNDRY [The athlete in the locker room …]
– 114A: WANTS TO HEAR MORE [And the up-and-coming trial judge …]

This felt like a classic puzzle – in-the-language phrases around a central topic – but with some nice modernizing touches (Netflix, smoothie bar, cooking show). SHARES AN ACCOUNT was probably my favorite reimagining, while I wanted a slightly stronger clue for AIRS THEIR DIRTY LAUNDRY (since I don’t think that’s what many athletes actually do?). A fun theme, though, and one where I don’t know that I can come up with many other examples.

Other random thoughts:
– Entries like MOIRA, NO BAIL, AMERICANAH, SPILL THE TEA, and L BOMB as well as the clues for entries like PANDA helped this puzzle feel current and fresh, which I enjoyed.
CARDI crossing CIARA might have been hard for some solvers, but the entries were so in my wheelhouse that they plunked in easily!
– Aside from maybe SERKIS (for me at least), this grid felt super clean.
– My one grimace was OAHU being clued via its military occupation – there’s so much more to represent OAHU from a Hawaiian perspective that it was a bummer to have it clued this way.

All in all, an enjoyable solve – congrats, Gustie!  We’re looking forward to seeing many more puzzles from you.

Dear readers, make sure you send along your congrats in the comments section and remember that kindness goes a long way.  It is incredibly tough to make a clean, fun puzzle, much less a Sunday-sized one.  The quickest way to discourage newer constructors (especially ones from groups less represented in crossworld) is to harshly critique them from behind your computer screen, especially when you yourself have never made a Sunday puzzle, much less published one in the NYT.  Our beloved world of crosswords only survives from generation to generation if we support and encourage newer constructors, so remember to do your part.  Constructive feedback for new constructors is great!  Crapping on them or their work is garbage behavior.

Relatedly, it should be noted how relatively rare it is to have a stand alone Sunday NYT puzzle by one woman constructor. More please, NYT!

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

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer is a Down answer (the “fall” of the puzzle’s title) that includes GALE between two words.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Windfall" solution for 12/4/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Windfall” solution for 12/4/2022

  • 3d [“Session in which Bhujangasana might be taught”] YOGA LESSON
  • 19d [“Gaining an advantage”] GETTING A LEG UP
  • 21a [“Remaining vigilant”] STAYING ALERT

I really had to read into the puzzle’s title to figure out the theme of this puzzle. GALE is not always the first term that comes to mind when I think of wind, but it certainly works. In fact, I really liked GETTING A LEG UP, as it spans GALE across three words. STAYING ALERT filled quickly for me too, though I initially tried to put in YOGA CLASS for YOGA LESSON, but it was much too short.

Content-wise, there is a lot of great fill. Some items that stick out to me:

  • 28a [“Story that stretches centuries”] – I thought it was very fun that SAGA was placed right above 34a [“Knitting material”] YARN because a similar clue could certainly have been used for the latter. In a lot of instances, a YARN  can feel like a SAGA.
  • 41a [“Bird closely related to the spoonbill”] – Like many board gamers, I recently received the newest expansion for Wingspan, and while playing it today, I actually came across a white-faced IBIS, so I was more than ready to fill in this answer.
  • 8d [“Dish similar to pancit canton”] – I love LO MEIN, but I’ve never had pancit canton, which looks delicious. Check out this recipe.
  • 12d [“Qipao, for example”] – A qipao is also referred to as a cheongsam, and it is a DRESS typically made from silk with a high collar and cloth buttons. You can learn more about the history of the qipao here.

Other favorite fill included: BLAME GAME, NEMESIS, HOG, PIRATE SHIP, and SEAL.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Land of Confusion” —Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Port crossword solution, “Land of Confusion,” 12/04/2022

Good morning from an Amtrak ride, which has electricity thankfully – I’d been without at home since early last evening. A more straightforward theme after last week’s meta – we have twelve themers used over six rows, each containing a letter string that anagrams to a country:

  • 23a [Phoenix Mercury star who has won five Olympic gold medals] DIANA TAURASI. Austria.
  • 25a [Musician with the Grammy-winning children’s album “Feel What U Feel”] LISA LOEB. Laos.
  • 38a [Deserving of snaps?] PHOTOGENIC. Togo.
  • 40a [Solutions for flats] SPARE TIRES. Eritrea
  • 61a [Backyard projectile banned in the U.S. since 1988] LAWN DART. Rwanda
  • 65a [Meaningless show of support] EMPTY GESTURE. Egypt.
  • 73a [Jackie Gleason’s role on “The Honeymooners”] RALPH KRAMDEN. Denmark.
  • 76a [Anchor’s setting] NEWSDESK. Sweden
  • 97a [Keeping up] SUSTAINING. Tunisia
  • 101a [Either one of Queen Charlotte’s dogs, Phoebe or Mercury, e.g.] POMERANIAN. Armenia
  • 114a [Linguistic relatives] COGNATES. Tonga
  • 116a [Avoided discussion of] DANCED AROUND. Ecuador

I can imagine a world in which this theme idea stops at six or seven long entries, or eight with a few running down. But I quite like the approach of getting to twelve such that six of the 21 rows in the grid are composed only of theme entries. It both fills up the grid and allows for longer anagrammed countries. I also found the grid easy to move through — the middle is nicely open considering two theme rows so close to each other. In fact, 16 entries in 21 columns cross two themers in the middle. That’s not easy, and it makes a better experience for the solver.

Edit: Thanks to commenter Sheik Yerbouti for pointing out that the first letters of the countries spell out ALTERED STATE. Just a lovely bit of icing on the cake, which I should expect by now from Evan, if I’m being honest.

Other notes:

  • 21a [The Nation correspondent Mystal] ELIE. I’m a fan of Mystal and his book, Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, which is worth your time.
  • 23a [Phoenix Mercury star who has won five Olympic gold medals] DIANA TAURASI. Since 2013, Taurasi has been a teammate on the Mercury of Britney Griner, who is now a political prisoner in Russia, detained as she was entering the country last February to begin her season in the Russian Premier League. Many WNBA players play in international leagues in addition to the WNBA season to augment low wages in the American league.
  • 57a [Spiky source of gel] ALOE. I quite like this clue, which evokes hair gel and spiky hair but isn’t actually using that angle at all.
  • 10d – 17d: I’m not going to write out each of these clues, but there’s a certain rhythm to them that I appreciate.
  • 31d [Part of a pair removed in a genkan] SHOE. I was unfamiliar with this word – genkan are entryway spaces in Japanese homes.
  • 130d [Phrase meaning “Forget it,” not “Sorry, we’re out of Ivory and Lava products”] NO SOAP. Here’s a phrase I first learned from crosswords — I think a tournament puzzle, no less.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “There Seems to Be a Mix-up Here”—Jim P’s review

Theme answers are familiar two-word phrases where the first word indicates that the second word is an anagram of the clue word.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “There Seems To Be a Mix-up Here” · Paul Coulter · 12.4.22

  • 23a. [*Aligns?] SCRAMBLED SIGNAL.
  • 41a. [*Tastes?] ALTERED STATES.
  • 49a. [*Wreathe?] STORMY WEATHER.
  • 68a. [*Sate?] BLENDED TEAS.
  • 85a. [*Dearth?] TANGLED THREAD.
  • 95a. [*Rages?] SHIFTING GEARS.
  • 115a. [*Aspired?] CHANGING DIAPERS.

Enjoyable theme. I’m not sold on some of the indicators (such as “stormy” and “blended”), especially for someone who doesn’t do many cryptic crosswords, but once you get the gist of the theme, it’s easy to work everything out.

Top fill: LOAN SHARK, “THAT’S TOO BAD,” “I GATHER,” IN A TAILSPIN, CABOOSE, “I DO TOO.” The rest of the grid is smooth with almost nothing to scowl about.

Clues of note:

  • 54a. [Rear end of a train or a person]. CABOOSE. Sadly, trains don’t have cabooses anymore. People still do, of course.
  • 9d. [Beetle juice?]. GAS. Good clue. Has it been used before? Probably. But it’s still good.
  • 50d. [___ mate (tealike drink)]. YERBA. New to me though I guess it’s been around a while in health food stores. Whether it’s healthy or not is debatable.

Solid puzzle all around. 3.5 stars.

Jill Rafaloff & Michelle Sontarp’s LA Times crossword, “Hesitations” – Gareth’s summary


Jill Rafaloff & Michelle Sontarp’s puzzle “Hesitations” features a simple enough theme formula: “+ER”, all at the end of one of the themers words:

  • [Milwaukee slugger who keeps striking out?], COLDBREW(ER)
  • [Put an album up for auction?], OFF(ER)THERECORD
  • [Animal hospital amenity?], DOGANDPONYSHOW(ER)
  • [Robbery involving a diamond?], BASEBALLCAP(ER)
  • [C-suite member who shreds on the half-pipe?], EXECUTIVEBOARD(ER)
  • [Rooster?], CHICKENBROTH(ER)
  • [Selfie taken by a financial professional?], BANK(ER)SHOT

There didn’t feel like a lot of interesting wordplay clues, but there were a few tricky spots:

  • [Stitched loosely], BASTED. Didn’t know the word for that!
  • [QB targets], TES. Guessing that’s tight ends?
  • A smattering of recent “TV” answers; [2021 and 2022 Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series], TED/LASSO not LASSOTED! [“The Marvelous __ Maisel”], MRS


This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Sunday, December 4, 2022

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I’m not a fan of jokey Sundays, but I liked this one. There were many things/people that I didn’t know, but they were generally gettable by working around them and using the theme to guess the long answers.
    I enjoyed the little biochemically nerdy touches– NODULE, AMINO, XANAX and even SIPHON…
    The clue for WASPY cracked me up, especially coupled with TRUST FUND. Well done!

    • Eric H says:

      The jokey theme does feel a bit old-fashioned, but these were amusing enough to keep me interested. The clueing for the non-theme answers was a bit straightforward for my tastes, but overall, it’s a decent debut.

  2. Teevoz says:

    Totally love your concluding grafs, Nate. We need more positive feedback and less cranky complaining. And I really liked the puzzle. Congrats Gustie – a terrific debut.

  3. Congratulations Gustie! Impressive debut puzzle!

  4. pannonica says:

    WaPo: Cluing felt pitched especially easy, overly so. Hoping it isn’t a trend.

  5. Jenni says:

    That was a fun puzzle! Took me a bit more cogitating than a typical Sunday, which is a good thing. Looking forward to more from Gustie!

    And thanks, Nate, for your comments about our comments. I realize I only show up in the comment section when I have a quibble or when a puzzle is particularly weird, and there are a lot of really good puzzles that deserve more love.

  6. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    Wapo: the anagrammed countries spell out ALTERED STATE. Nice touch.

  7. Dallas says:

    Fun, fluid Sunday … I always enjoy a good punny theme :-)

  8. JohnH says:

    Well, ok. But let me put in my mean, nasty, narrow-minded defense of those who may not be nitpicking at all. They may just be reporting their experience of the whole puzzle. And here they predominate, although in fact, contrary to the comments above, their voices do not do so at all. More give the puzzle a negative (under 3) than a positive (over 3), and within that group extremes predominate. Yet I’m the first negative comment.

    If it helps, consider what turns solvers quite generally against “crosswordese.” For some, it just means trite. It’s stuff that they can enter without thinking, and as a solver at ease with pop culture ventured the other day, that isn’t fun. Conversely, Amy on Mondays has expressed concern that those not obsessed with crosswords won’t know where to begin.

    So think of a heavy dose of factual knowledge as opposed to ingenuity and vocabulary as a basis for clues along those lines. You know, you find it easy; you don’t, you’re out of luck. In this case, I started by finding the puzzle too routine, and then I found it among the hardest yet. Besides the C in Cardi (which I did dredge in time from memory), do factor in the entries that Nate singles out as fresh, many in the same sector (and one a theme entry).

    So please forgive me if I didn’t like it. I don’t want my personal references, and I don’t want an easy puzzle. I just want a fair chance. The straw men here are not fair either.

  9. Keith Sympnds says:

    NYT – Congrats to Gustie on her impressive and fun debut. In the NYT blurb they note her current job at MDRC. I had that same job in 1985-86.

  10. huda says:

    Interesting discussion today about comments on puzzles.
    I’m in academia, and we’re very judgey, unfortunately. No one likes negative feedback, but feedback can be very important as a way to understand the strengths and weaknesses of one’s work. So, I have taught myself and try to teach my trainees how to offer constructive feedback and how to also accept it and process it. The best thing that can happen out of the process is if the person receiving the feedback feels it is well considered and fair, and uses it as a springboard to improve their output.
    Admittedly, scientific feedback has different standards from feedback on a puzzle. It’s expected to be more objective, evidence based, whereas feedback on puzzles is almost by definition idiosyncratic.
    Still, we do rate puzzles, and I feel that constructors deserve to hear what is behind the ratings but in a positive and constructive way– and that is especially true for new constructors.
    In general, I feel that this site has a very good style, which is why I am loyal to it. The formal reviewers on Team Fiend are all highly experienced and they are invariably respectful. And most of the comments (though not all…) refer to personal opinions. Of course we can all improve, and I greatly appreciate Nate’s reminder. I simply want to speak to the idea that a range of feedback, if done right, can be helpful.
    I really admire all the constructors who put themselves out there to stimulate, educate and entertain us. Thank you!!

    • Eric H says:

      My professional experience is different than yours, but not wholly so. I worked for almost 30 years in a legislative agency, drafting legislative documents (bills, amendments, etc.).

      Everything I or one of the other attorneys drafted was reviewed by at least one other attorney. Under the ideal circumstances, the reviewing attorney would meet with the drafting attorney and explain the changes the reviewer had made or wanted made. Often — especially when the drafting attorney was inexperienced — those discussions required a lot of tact.

      I agree that the Team Fiend reviewers are typically fair and respectful of constructors’ efforts. It’s not easy to make a good crossword puzzle.

  11. marciem says:

    NYT: I completely enjoyed the theme, and agree with most of the comments Nate made. On Sundays, I do enjoy a jokey or punny or twisty theme on the “less difficult” side, after Saturday’s usual workout with NYT, LAT and Stumpers. Today’s debut filled the bill for me. It was fun to see what the directions the constructor was going with their re-thought common phrases.

    When I do make some not-positive remarks, it is usually with the thought of giving constructive input to/if the constructor happens to read it, not to dump on or discourage anybody.

    I very much appreciate all the constructors, and love seeing new ones jump into the pool!

  12. Eric H says:

    WaPo: This is probably the first of Evan Birnholz’s meta puzzles that I have figured out on my own. (Yay me!)

    As always, I’m impressed by Mr. Birnholz’s construction skills; getting the country anagrams in the correct order to spell ALTERED STATE cannot be easy, particularly given the grid symmetry.

    I do wish the clueing were a little more challenging. (The clue for PHOTOGENIC is probably my favorite in terms of requiring some thought, but the ISOTOPE one is good, too.) I did the grid in about 13–½ minutes, which is a few minutes faster than I have ever done a NYT Sunday puzzle.

    On the whole, I enjoyed it.

    And now to take another shot at the meta from the Friday WSJ puzzle.

    • Mr. [just a little bit] Grumpy says:

      WaPo: Should have been altered stateS in my opinion, although I have no idea how/whether one could squeeze another themer into the grid. Sorry not to jump on today’s love train [Love Boat?], but the reviewers here already do a grand job of pointing out what is good in a puzzle. They often gloss over the shortcomings. Here, each themer had an altered state, but the concept of the puzzle as a whole was the plural. Just a nit. My main complaint is that I would have liked the cluing to be a bit more challenging.

      Universal: Loved it. Including ALTERED STATES. Ha-ha. That’s the kind of word play I love to see.

      • Eric H says:

        I agree ALTERED STATEs would have been a better solution for the meta, but with 12 theme answers already, that’s a bit much to ask. (And adding another country would throw off the symmetry, anyway.)

      • Oh for God’s sake. You get to ALTERED STATE, which a) describes the concept of countries being altered and b) relates to the title “Land of Confusion.” And you’re spending oxygen complaining that STATES should be plural? Who cares???

  13. Charles Montpetit says:

    Interesting to see two puzzles (Birnholz’s WaPo and Coulter’s Universal) come out on the same day with similar anagram-rich themes, as well as the common entry ALTERED STATE(S). Something in the RIA, maybe?

  14. Brian Mitchinson says:

    Wapo: any one else miss Eritrea? I knew it started with an E and still couldn’t come up with it. How these crosswords are created every week is a mystery. So creative!

Comments are closed.