Sunday, December 25, 2002

LAT tk(Gareth) 


NYT 13:45 (Nate) 


USA Today 5:17 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo  a bit (Matthew) 


John Martz’s New York Times crossword, “Novel Thinking” —Nate’s write-up

Hi everyone – and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Today’s write up will be quick so I can get back to my Christmas Eve traditions with my husband. I hope you’re all well and have time to spend with those you love, too.

Today’s debut puzzle by our constructor re-imagines common phrases as general terms to describe books like the one listed for each clue. Pretty straightforward stuff, with a few fun surprises like ANIMAL PRINT and BUZZ WORDS. I was impressed by the volume of theme material and the fact that the constructor was able to build so many themers without reusing the second word!

12.25.22 New York Times Crossword Puzzle

12.25.22 New York Times Crossword Puzzle

– 24A: HOME PAGES [“Little House on the Prairie,” e.g.?]

– 26A: GHOST WRITING [“The Haunting of Hill House,” e.g.?]

– 40A: FLUID VOLUME [“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” e.g.?]

– 45A: SECOND STORY [“Back to Treasure Island,” e.g.?]

– 61A: PRISON SENTENCES [“Crime and Punishment,” e.g.?]

– 80A: ADDRESS BOOK [“If Beale Street Could Talk,” e.g.?]

– 89A: ANIMAL PRINT [“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” e.g.?]

– 99A: WORKING TITLE [“The Help,” e.g.?]

– 105A: BUZZ WORDS [“The Secret Life of Bees,” e.g.?]

Random thoughts:
– 1A: BUGS [Nickname of Looney Tunes animator Ben Hardaway] – I enjoy answers like this that feel impossible to get at first glance, but then reveal themselves in a way where you just know that it’s correct.
– 56A: KETANJI [Justice ___ Brown Jackson] – Love seeing her in the puzzle!
– 3D: GO TO PIECES [Break down] – I was half convinced that this was originally meant to be a theme answer for some kind of novel centered on travel.
– 69D: T-BONE STEAK [Cut with a letter opener?] – Easily my favorite clue of the puzzle. This was a fun aha moment!

That’s all from me for now. Be well, take care, and happy holidays! Get those resolutions ready for 2023.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post variety suite, “Santa’s Workshop” —Matthew’s write-up

Merry Christmas, all! I am up well past my bedtime waiting for Santa texting my wife who is working a 24-hour shift and family who are snowed in in Western New York. As a distraction, we’ve got a changeup from Evan Birnholz: a four-puzzle variety suite.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post variety suite solution, “Puzzle 1: Marching Bands,” 12/25/2022

Instructions direct us to find six- or seven-letter gifts within the first three puzzles, and then to use the fourth puzzle to find a secret message from Santa. Each of these formats will be familiar to regular solvers of variety puzzles by Patrick Berry, Mike Shenk, and Joon Pahk — indeed, Evan thanks the first two in the puzzle suite itself.

Puzzle 1 is a Marching Bands, in which answers run clockwise in concentric rings as well as across the grid. The cluing is straightforward, as it is for much of the suite, but some letters are clued only by the Rows and not by the Bands.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post variety suite solution, “Puzzle 2: Checkered Flag,” 12/25/2022

Highlighted in yellow in the image, the extra letters spell TRUMPET – an apt find in a “Marching Bands” puzzle.

I don’t think I’ve see a “Checkered Flag,” as in Puzzle 2 here, before, but the concept is familiar; clues zigzag across pairs of rows or columns, and thus intersecting words check each other in a different arrangement than a crossword, spiral, or Rows Garden. [Erie passageway] for CANAL struck me a bit odd syntactically (as opposed to something like [Niagara Frontier passageway] to clue ERIE CANAL)  but it’s a small nit.

The extra letters in this puzzle are present in the across answers, but not the downs, and spell TOY CAR, another apt answer for the puzzle format.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post variety suite solution, “Puzzle 3: Labyrinth,” 12/25/2022

Puzzle 3 provides a bit more resistance — I only know the musical MAME from crosswords, tried to make “caramel” fit before NOUGAT for [Mars bar filling], and generally have more trouble with Labyrinths even before there are extra letters about.

Again in the Rows and not the other set of clues, the extra letters spell COMPASS, a useful tool for someone lost in a maze.

The last puzzle is titled “Gift Boxes;” I’ve also seen it as “Packing Crates” and any number of container-related phrases. As in the other puzzles, we have Rows clues helping to fill the grid left-to-right, but our other set of answers are grouped in rectangular shapes in the grid; it’s left to the solver to place them.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post variety suite solution, “Final Puzzle: Gift Boxes,” 12/25/2022

This is more of a challenge — and I would say more fun — if you solved this on paper or otherwise outside of the PuzzleMe applet on the Post’s website, which necessarily spoils the layout of the boxes. Anyway, it’s typical in this format for a bonus word to be leftover from letters not included in one of the boxes, and here we’re left with “DIAGONAL.” And indeed, TRUMPET, TOY CAR, and COMPASS are all in this grid on diagonals beginning at squares 4, 1, and 31 respectively.

If I weren’t writing this puzzle up, I would have stopped there and been a bit underwhelmed. The hidden gifts were so apparent from the first three puzzles that their inclusion in the last wasn’t a help toward anything but a nod that it can be done. However, the instructions for the fourth puzzle end with the line “The squares of each of these gifts will tell you where you can find Santa’s four-word message in the first three puzzles.”

So, looking at TRUMPET, which uses squares 4, 15, 26, and so on, and then looking at squares 4, 15, 26, and so on in Puzzle 1, we get DRINK YOUR OVALTINE ITS A CHR-

Yada yada yada, IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE. Nope, just a lovely gift from Evan to us, four puzzles all with multiple triple-checked cells and a satisfying payoff that strikes a nice balance between hand-hold-y and completely obfuscated. Bravo.

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

EditorErik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer contains OPEN split between two words, with the space between them being the “crack” of the puzzle’s title.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Cracked Open" solution for 12/25/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Cracked Open” solution for 12/25/2022

  • 16a [“Power source for some planes”] TURBOPROP ENGINE
  • 25a [“‘That would be awful!’”] I SURE HOPE NOT
  • 61a [“Tool used to ink an ankle”] TATTOO PEN

When I saw the puzzle’s title, I expected each themer to have OPEN as the letters framing the beginning and end of the answer, so it was not necessarily helpful when I couldn’t remember what a TURBOPROP ENGINE was. However, it soon became clear as I filled in I SURE HOPE NOT and TATTOO PEN.

I enjoyed the solve here, finishing in my usual five minutes-ish time. I was completely lost on the PROP part of TURBOPROP ENGINE, and it so it wasn’t until I got PUSHY and WE’RE TOAST (which, side note, I love) that it all fell into place. I also had SPAR at 20a [“Face off”] instead of DUEL for awhile, which did not help matters. 23a [“It’s replace by sparkling wine in a Negroni Sbagliato”] GIN because I believe that there’s a viral TikTok video with this drink at the center. The FOODIE in me is also definitely intrigued by TAMALE PIE and will do some post-holiday investigating upon my return home.

Other favourites included CATSAT, OODLES, STOOP, and PEALS. I had a hard time with CAPE bcause I first had COWL for 30a [“Part of a Scarlet Witch costume”] but I enjoyed the reference immensely.

That’s all from me! Happy holiday season to you and yours!

Ryan McCarty and Adrian Johnson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Jumbo Freestyle 6: White Christmas”—Jim P’s review

Happy Christmas (if that’s your thing)! We’ve got another meaty jumbo freestyle going on here, so let’s dig right in.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Jumbo Freestyle 6: White Christmas” · Ryan McCarty and Adrian Johnson · 12.25.22

As usual, there’s a lot to like here, starting off with the central “SOUNDS LIKE A YOU PROBLEM.” No doubt this was the seed entry for this grid. I like it, though it’s completely new to me.


Just a few entries took a little bit of the shine off the grid. TEA TASTER [Worker who may sample Earl Grey] doesn’t sound like a real thing. Right next door is TEN-DAY WAR [Slovenian conflict that lasted less than a fortnight] which I’m sure is a real thing and it was easy enough to infer, but I’d never heard of it. Lastly, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the phrase DATA MODEL [Abstract framework for information], but even after reading the clue multiple times, I still don’t know what it is.

It’s not a surprise that all those are in the center of the grid where we have a massive vortex of long entries. To have those as the only debits in such a huge mash-up of entries is really quite impressive. Yeah, I guess I’d say I’m in awe of that central section.

I did get hung up at the end in the SW. 93a [Arrival en masse] really looked to me like ONRUSH (who uses INRUSH?) and 81a [Web designer’s lang.] seemed like RSS (a web initialism with 38 hits at Cruciverb whereas CSS has 0 hits). So I couldn’t see 81d with its opaque clue [Tool that makes chips?]. It was only after much contemplation that I considered INRUSH which then led to CHISEL and CSS. To be fair, I do know what Cascading Style Sheets are and that RSS isn’t really a “lang.” But yeah, it was a tough corner.

Clues of note:

  • 103a. [Part of a DJ’s stack, perhaps]. CD CASE. Hmm. Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems unlikely nowadays.
  • 107a. [Like “Mr. Irrelevant,” among NFL draft picks]. LAST. I’ve never heard of the moniker and it sounds pretty harsh. But life isn’t all bad for the player who gets this dubious honor.
  • 11d. [“Lah-di-___!”]. DAH. Still waiting for the full and correct version of this clue: [“Lah-di-frickin’-___!”].
  • 29d. [Cavalier King Charles ___]. SPANIEL. LOL. This is a dog breed. I thought it was a Cleveland basketball player with a royal nickname a la Sir Charles Barkley.
  • 47d. [Floral liquid in many Persian desserts]. ROSEWATER. We also would have accepted [2014 Jon Stewart film set in Iran].

Another fully-loaded Universal Sunday freestyle. 4.25 stars.

Oh, one other thing. I haven’t figured out why “White Christmas” is in the title. If you’ve got a clue, please share it in the comments.

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13 Responses to Sunday, December 25, 2002

  1. JohnH says:

    The NYT is workmanlike enough and a straightforward solve, with lots of themers, so hard to complain for a Sunday. Still, I never did get a smile from them, and they weren’t even consistently puns.

    Sometimes the word-related word has a different meaning in context, such as volume (although a shared root), sometimes not really. And I never did understand whether there was more relevance to “Return to Treasure Island” other than that it’s a sequel. So are lots of books (and SECOND STORY was dying for a book that somehow could have brought out the potential punning in the phrase between story telling and story of a house). Last, too much kid stuff relative to literature for me, although I know that’s just my taste. Well, seems to have gone over well enough, so enjoy.

  2. e.a. says:

    what a treat from birnholz! every bit as fun and meticulously plotted as i’ve come to expect from his suites. (and great to see the checkered flag, his own original format, make an appearance)

    • Thanks, friend! Happy holidays to you and yours and thanks for all you do at USA Today / New Yorker / everywhere.

    • pannonica says:

      Yes, really impressive construction!

      One thing that the review doesn’t mention is that the ‘extra’ letters spell valid words, consistent with one of the entry types.

    • JohnH says:

      I’d never have tried this or even have known of it without Crossword Fiend, but the comments intrigued me, and I have to say it’s a wonderful construction. I didn’t actually take the last step, figuring I could leave the numbering as a routine task to this forum, but it was impressive how it works all the same. Really something. And of course thanks to the community for directing me.

  3. Ugh. If you’re a print subscriber to the Post, don’t bother solving my puzzle as it appears in the Post Magazine. The bottom line of clues got cut off in the 3rd and 4th variety puzzles. I’d guess many people here will be downloading the PDF from Fiend or from the Post’s website, and if so, you’ll find the correct version with the cut-off clues there.

    I don’t know how this happened, but it’s unbelievably frustrating, especially because it’s the last-ever edition of the Magazine.

  4. Steve Tice says:

    On the WaPo puzzle, I got hung up on the diagonals, reading them as TRUMPET, TOY CART AND COMPASS. Unfortunate remainder letters of the second gift.

  5. adrian johnson says:

    Hi Jim, thanks for the review- the reason it’s called “White Christmas” is because David was scheduling for December at the time we got it accepted. He thought the puzzle, with its open space in the middle, would be fun to present with a festive title and run on Christmas. Glad you enjoyed it, and happy holidays!

  6. Iggystan says:

    I really enjoyed the Washington Post puzzle today and am amazed at how folks like Evan, Patrick and others can play with words like that and come up with elegant little puzzles. Thanks for the Christmas present Evan!

  7. AlanW says:

    Small typo: The page heading reads December 25, 2002, instead of 2022, and so do the end of the URL and the HTML title. This is also why the review links at the top left are broken; they point to the 2022 version of the URL. (I hope that fixing this won’t in turn break the Recent Comments list, which currently links to the 2002 URL.)

    Or maybe it’s just the TIME WARP from Evan’s brilliant puzzle.

  8. BavinBrielle says:

    WaPo. Thank you, Evan, for such a wonderful Christmas present! I was so excited when I peeked at it Christmas Eve and became a little kid looking forward to Christmas Day. I finally finished it this morning and am so proud of myself for completing it totally … living up to Santa’s message in the puzzles!

  9. Pilgrim says:

    Solving the WaPo crossword, I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning, with one present after another coming out from under the tree!

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