Sunday, December 18, 2022

LAT tk(Gareth) 


NYT 18:02 (Nate) 


USA Today 4:10 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:43 (Jim P) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 7:20 (Matthew) 


Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword, “Some Theme’s Missing” —Nate’s write-up

Holy crap. This puzzle was amazing! To make a themeless so smooth and full of fun, lively fill that you don’t mind at all that there’s no theme? Incredible. Wowwwwww. Absolute kudos to the constructor! In lieu of a theme, I’m going to list all the entries that matched how I felt about the puzzle:

12.18.22 Sunday New York Times Crossword

12.18.22 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 1A AH BLISS [“I’m in heaven!”]
– 8A MERCI [Word of gratitude overseas]
– 22A THIS IS THE LIFE [“I’m in heaven!”]
– 70A MADE PROUD [Caused to kvell]
– 11D C’EST BIEN [“That’s fine,” in French]
– 16D EN FUEGO [Really hot, slangily]
– 91A GOAT [Parent of kids] or, Greatest Of All Time, like this puzzle’s constructor!

Also, that central stack of entries was mindblowing! BET AWARDS, FEMINISTS, REST STOPS, DESPACITO, and CRANK CALL?! The downs in that region were great too, including WISE CRACK, CHRIS PAUL, and MEME STOCK.

Other fun entries / fun clues:
– 19A CARPENTER ANT [One might crawl out of the woodwork]
– 41A PHOENIX AZ [Largest U.S. state capital by population, on a postmark]
– 96A POUTINE [Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy]
– 2D HALLOWEEKEND [Portmanteau for an extended autumn celebration]
– 3D BLOOMING ONION [Fried appetizer that resembles a blossom]

The only clue I didn’t love was [Joint accounts?] for POLICE REPORTS at 94A. There are too many people locked up with lives ruined for minor infractions for drugs that are now legal to really joke around about this, IMO. Also, can we talk about how relatively clean this grid was for how much it accomplished? Sure, there’s STROM and PAK, but I’ll take those little bits of glue for everything we got! I hope you enjoyed the puzzle as much as I did – stop by the comments section to let us know your favorite bits. Have a great week!

Chris Moss’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Paper Chain”—Jim P’s review

Theme: WRAPPING GIFTS (32d, [Holiday season task, and a theme hint (Note what the first letters of the starred clues’ answers spell)]). Theme answers start on the right side of the grid and “wrap” around to the left side to include the starred clues’ answers. As a bonus, the first letters of the star-clued answers also spell out the word PRESENTS. Note that the entries on the right side of the grid are all valid (though unclued) crossword entries.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Paper Chain” · Chris Moss · 12.18.22

  • 14a [With 1-Across, secret plot] / 1a [*Software theft]. CONS / PIRACY.
  • 27a [With 24-Across, yellow-green color] / 24a [*Get extra life from] CHART / REUSE.
  • 52a [With 48-Across, out-of-studio broadcast variety] / 48a [*Overplay a role] LIVE R / EMOTE.
  • 62a [With 59-Across, details to “get down to”] / 59a [*Poker players’ piles] BRAS / S TACKS.
  • 73a [With 68-Across, raw egg danger] / 68a [*Jazzy Fitzgerald]. SALMON / ELLA.
  • 88a [With 83-Across, Chinese regime under which the Silk Road started] / 83a [*Very unkind]. HAN DY / NASTY.
  • 113a [With 107-Across, old TV antenna] / 107a. [*Drops of joy] RABBI / T EARS. I love that RABBI TEARS make RABBIT EARS.
  • 124a [With 122-Across, owning] / 122a [*Perform a carol]. POSSES / SING.

Whew! A lot going on here even though the solve felt pretty straightforward. I had to get down to the third or fourth theme answer before I began to realize what was going on, and I didn’t bother with figuring out the “first letter” business until after the solve. But yeah. A rather involved construction but plenty of fun, surprising finds.

My first thought on grokking the theme was that I wanted the theme answers to all be “gifts” somehow, since they get “wrapped”. I don’t know what “gift answers” actually would be though—perhaps actual things people might give like a BARBIE DOLL or a SCENTED CANDLE. Or a non-tangible talents like SINGING or INTELLIGENCE. But then you’d most likely end up with nonsensical entries on the right and left side of the grid and it wouldn’t be as satisfying.

I eventually decided to look on each theme entry as a gift in itself to the solver, i.e. we gained the knowledge that HAN DYNASTY can be broken down into HANDY and NASTY, for example. That’s a pretty good gift, ain’t it?

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a load of goodies in the fill. Just look at those stacks at top and bottom: TWO PAIR, CIABATTA, COBRA POSE and “MY IT’S LATE,” ALL IN ALL, and PET TOYS. Plus there’s SALSA BARS, TIBETANS, CATALAN, MANSPLAIN, IT’S ALL AN ACT, In-N-Out’s ANIMAL STYLE (for us West Coaster’s only, so nyah!), CRYSTALS, and AD SLOGANS. Oh, by the way, ANIMAL STYLE means a burger or fries topped with all the fixin’s, including caramelized onion and special sauce.

There were a couple new-to-me terms in the grid. The first is MOSAIC LAW [It includes the Ten Commandments], which I hesitated to type in. Does the art style actually come from the name Moses? I’d also never heard the term FINTECH [Crypto’s field] though it makes sense.

Clues of note:

  • 78a. [Stirring the pot, literally]. MIXING. Well, not literally. Literally, you’re stirring the contents of the pot.
  • 79a. [Barriers to heaven]. GATES. I was thinking this would be something to do with sinning. Good misdirection.
  • 49d. [Relatives of reindeer]. ELKS. Dictionaries list both “elk” and ELKS as acceptable plurals.

Get this: This lovely grid with its multi-layered theme and strong fill is a debut! This is going to be a tough act to follow, but I’m looking forward to more from this constructor. 4.25 stars.

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

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: The word CROSS is split between the beginning and end of each theme answer

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Crosscut" solution for 12/18/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Crosscut” solution for 12/18/2022

  • 16a [“Person in control of a racket”] CRIME BOSS
  • 27a [“Royal heir apparent”] CROWN PRINCESS
  • 56a [“Actress who originated the role of Eve Donovan on ‘Days of Our Lives’”] CHARLOTTE ROSS

I really enjoyed this theme. It was relatively straightforward and didn’t affect my fill, though perhaps I should have paid more attention since CHARLOTTE ROSS came together entirely on crosses for me, save for the first T crossing THAT. CROWN PRINCESS fell neatly into place, but I also needed some help with CRIME BOSS, associating “racket” with sports more than with the criminal aspect of it. Maybe I should’ve been thinking more SNOOPing, SCAMs, and SHAMS, and that would’ve fallen in more quickly.

This was a really smooth puzzle, and I finished moving from top to bottom without a second go-through. I really liked ALL THE RAGE as helpful going down and providing some aid with 18a [“Brass or pewter”] ALLOY, 35a [“Our home”] EARTH, and 25a [“People in ‘Inside the Simple Life’”] AMISH.

A few other things:

  • 49a [“Holes for shoelaces”] – There are some words that I’ve learned and really want to remember, but they often don’t come to mind when I actually need them. I was super pleased to remember EYELETS, but it prompted me to think about the name for shoelace tips, which I’ve tried to cement in my long-term memory for years. (They’re called “aglets,” in case you were wondering.)
  • 51a [“People, in Chinese”] – I thought that this was a great way to clue REN, even though I didn’t notice it until after I finished the puzzle. I saw the filled word and fully expected a Kylo REN reference, but this was a great way to change it up.
  • 63d [“Qingqiang backdrop”] – Qingqiang is a genre of Chinese opera that would, of course, need SETs.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 21” —Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Themeless No. 21,” 12/18/2022

My computer crashed before I had saved my initial write-up, so today is going to be a bit quick, unfortunately. Six grid-spanners structure the themeless grid — I quite like NETFLIX ORIGINAL SERIES and THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING — all while making space and flexibility for a pretty low word count, as 21x’s go, no? I know Evan doesn’t care much about word count, but my personal preference is almost always toward low-count themeless grids.

A few notes:

  • 1a [IndyCar racer Patrick] DANICA. I’ve gotten into Formula 1 in the last year or so, which means I hear a bit of IndyCar news. That knowledge led me astray here, as Danica Patrick is well more mainstream than the hypothetical driver, first name “Patrick” I was trying to remember.
  • 73a [Wrapper with scales] BOA. I quite like this, as a feathery BOA comes to mind, but only fits half the clue. It took me a moment longer to reconsider “wrapper” in the sense of a constrictor snake.
  • 91a [“The Ryan White Story” actor Lukas] and 106d [Composer and conductor Lukas] HAAS and FOSS. I reached 106 before 91 in my solve, and let’s just say I don’t actually know either of these gents outside of crosswords, and I had a nice chuckle when I reached a space where HAAS *was* correct.
  • 12d [Images of Belle and Sebastian, e.g.] CELS. The misdirection (“Belle and Sebastian” are a music group) was lost on my pop-naive self.
  • 61d [Occasional Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, oddly] PHRASE. This got a big chuckle out of me, but it’s true when you think about it!
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37 Responses to Sunday, December 18, 2022

  1. Mike_H says:

    NYT – a great puzzle. I recommend going to xwordinfo and looking at the “freshness factor” colored grid. A masterpiece in solid, fresh fill. Thanks for the early Christmas present, Ryan!

  2. Mr. C says:

    NYT: Nice enough puzzle, but I didn’t love the grid design.

  3. Eric H says:

    NYT: I liked all the fresh fill, but I’d have preferred a bit more challenging clueing. I zipped through most of the grid and only a couple of answers were puzzling for more than a few seconds.

    • JohnH says:

      I rather found this among the hardest Sundays. There was enough I didn’t remember (GOGOS) or know (BET AWARDS, CARLA, CHRIS PAUL, REECE, IKO, the Halloween variant, I’M SO DONE) or remembered in due time only because of a previous puzzle (DESPACITO), the first two crossing COASTER, which I’d never heard of for roller coaster. Obviously a few of these are in long entries. There was also the unusual grid with its almost exclusively long entries, barring an easy foothold.

      Not sure how I feel. It’s an attractive grid, but I have a feeling that a themeless will have more fans among Crossword Fiend types, who prefer crosswords for their own sake, than from an average solver. I can’t know, but I myself much prefer themes and indeed use them to motivate me to keep going on the scale of a Sunday puzzle. Otherwise, it really does risk becoming a slog. My own favorite day of the week is Thursday for the hardest of the NYT themed puzzles, and my favorite puzzle type is variety cryptic. I miss the challenge of the Atlantic cryptics; Maltby in Harper’s is less creative and more eccentric, and Cox/Rathvon in the WSJ try to be easier.

  4. Ben Kennedy says:

    Who else immediately saw a swastika pattern? On the day of the first night of Hanukkah, no less. I’m sure this was purely an accident, but I’m still shocked this made it through the editorial process.

    It was fun to solve through, loved the relatively low number of three letter fills

    • John Galt says:

      Yep… it’s a swastika alright and the NYTimes is not acknowledging it. No surprise unfortunately.

    • Gary R says:

      Just looked like a swirl to me. If I hold it at arm’s length and squint, I can see something that could be a swastika.

      Might be my problem. When I was in college, I had a girlfriend who, after a Psych 101 lecture on subliminal messages in advertising, would point out all sorts of things in magazine ads that I couldn’t see.

    • Ed says:

      This may say more about you than you’d like to admit. I didn’t see it.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Huh … I don’t see it at all.

  5. huda says:

    NYT: I agree with Nate that it was a remarkable puzzle, and for me a large themeless that was gettable was a great change of pace for a Sunday. It was also a good mix of learning things I didn’t know and having little aha moments with the cluing.
    That neighborhood with TEXANS, TAXES AND TAXIS was fun. CADENCE and SMIDGEN on top of each other is lovely.
    I especially liked the very positive vibe in the top line and then the trend toward more crankiness as you proceed, with TESTY, LASH AT and the wonderful IM SO DONE!

  6. David L says:

    NYT was a smooth puzzle but not very challenging. One quibble: my German is rusty but I’m pretty sure the usual word for river (49D) is Fluss. Strom (like English stream) has a variety of meanings but can be applied to electricity, air etc as well as water. You wouldn’t call the Rhine a Strom, I don’t think.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Strom just doesn’t translate neatly into English (although neither language is very precise about bodies of water, if we’re honest).

    • xepia says:

      Strom means a big Fluss (= river), or in a narrower sense the part of this big river that is actually big. Think Saint Lawrence River, whose German name is in fact Sankt-Lorenz-Strom.

      So the Rhine is a Fluss all the way, but a Strom only when considered in its entirety or restricted to its lower parts.

  7. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: very nice for a themeless Sunday. But have to say, the rare GOGOS/BANGLES Cali 80’s girl group double was sitting right there.

  8. Doug C says:

    NYT – Re Joint Account: joint as in lockup: “in the joint.” Not a drug reference.

  9. Bryan says:

    NYT: Nate, I agree with everything in your review. Except I didn’t interpret the “Joint accounts” clue to be about marijuana, but rather about “joint” being slang for jail or prison. Incredible grid design!

  10. sanfranman59 says:

    Uni … F&*#ing PWNS!!! I forgot all about this non-word that I first saw a while back in a crossword puzzle. I (of course) had ‘oWNS’ there (you know, since it’s an actual word) and couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. Grr.

    Thank you for providing me with a venue for expressing my crossword frustration ;^)

  11. Dan says:

    I liked the NYT Sunday themeless a lot, but I didn’t even find the clue “Joint accounts?” for “police reports” to be accurate.

    The domain of police is *outside of prisons* (inside they are called corrections officers or something else). So there is not much overlap between accounts coming out of the joint, and police reports. The connection is too remote for my taste.

  12. Jay says:

    Why does the blank NYT crossword grid on 12/18/22 resemble a sw@stik@?? And on the eve of Hanukkah, to boot. Weird.

  13. Eric H says:


    Nice puzzle.

    Matthew writes: “12d [Images of Belle and Sebastian, e.g.] CELS. The misdirection (“Belle and Sebastian” are a music group) was lost on my pop-naive self.”

    Belle and Sebastian are one of my favorite bands of the last 25 years. I confidently stuck “rare” in for an answer, because though most of their album covers include photos of people, those people are not the members of the band.

    Too bad my answer didn’t fit the grammar of the clue.

  14. Cathryn Silver-Smith says:

    The puzzle image looks like a swastika. Is that intentional?

    • sanfranman59 says:

      You’re the third person to post this about this grid. I was never great at pattern recognition, but I’m not seeing it at all. I can kinda, sorta see the SS symbol.

  15. JohnH says:

    While of course it’s not rated here, I’d be curious to hear how and whether others worked the Sunday NYT annual puzzle supplement. I did a few of the specialty puzzles (happy to have a cryptic), but not the monster ordinary crossword. Seeing that nearby clue numbers could be 60 or more apart, I figured it’d take forever just hunting the clue lists to find what pertains. Doesn’t sound like fun.

    While of course it’s a celebration for the puzzle staff and for many solvers, I’d have happy had the work in construction lead instead to, say, a dozen ordinary sized crosswords progressing in difficulty or theme to produce over the course of solving whatever meta the NYT desires. I may not have found the meta, being so lousy at those, but I’d still have savored the extra puzzles. As for the other component puzzles of the contest, some interested me and some didn’t but that’s fine. To each …

  16. Seattle Derek says:

    WaPo: 12D: “Images of Belle and Sebastian, e.g.” Answer: CELS. Those are toon from Beauty & the Beast and SpongeBob if I’m not mistaken.

    • pannonica says:

      If you’re going that route, I believe Sebastian is a crab from The Little Mermaid. But Belle and Sebastian is also very much a thing, as discussed above.

      p.s. The absence of quotes suggests that you may be correct in the individual-Disney-character interpretation

      • Matt Gritzmacher says:

        oh, it was certainly my sense that the correct interpretation is disney characters, and that the music group is a neat misdirect. I shouldn’t have left the former unsaid, I see now!

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