Sid Sivakumar’s New York Times crossword, “Alternate Endings” — Nate’s write-up
– 15D JAMBA… [Meat-and-vegetables dish with Creole and Cajun varieties]
– 1D TIME KE… [Person with a stopwatch]
– 47D LEAP YEAR [Many a presidential election occurs in one]
Every other letter of LEAP YEAR spells out LAYA to finish off JAMBA(LAYA) and EPER to finish off TIME KE(EPER)!
– 14D RED LAN… [Chinese New Year decoration]
– 21D SWITC… [Electrical wiring nexus]
– 53D THE BRONX [Where hip-hop originated]
Every other letter of THE BRONX spells out TERN to finish off RED LAN(TERN) and HBOX to finish off SWITC(H BOX)!
– 7D HOW CAN T… [“Is it even possible?!”]
– 8D SILVER M… [It’ll take a second to get it]
– 58D HEAD TABLE [Where newlyweds are typically seated at a wedding reception]
Every other letter of HEAD TABLE spells out HATBE to finish off HOW CAN T(HAT BE) and EDAL to finish off SILVER M(EDAL)!
– 55D IDEA… [Theoretical substance for which a chemistry law is named]
– 42D ROTISS… [Revolutionary cooking device?]
– 87D LEG RAISE [Exercise that strengthens hip flexors]
Every other letter of LEG RAISE spells out LGAS to finish off IDEA(L GAS) and ERIE to finish off ROTISS(ERIE)!
– 46D STYLIN… [Hair salon goo]
– 62D DAYC… [Toddler drop-off locales]
– 89D GAG REELS [Compilations of laughably bad takes]
Every other letter of GAG REELS spells out GGEL to finish off STYLIN(G GEL) and ARES to finish off DAYC(ARES)!
– 34A LANES [Divisions represented by the highlighted answers in this puzzle]
– 114A / 116A ZIPPER / MERGES [With 116-Across, procedures in which drivers take turns joining a single stream, as demonstrated five times in this puzzle]
I think 7D merging into 58D captures my awed response to this puzzle best: HOW CAN T(HAT BE)?! To make sure we’re all on the same page: for each set of three theme entries, the top two answers go down and meet at a merge symbol, where they then zipper merge into the third theme entry below, with each of the two top theme entries taking alternating letters from that third theme entry. The two theme entries zipper merge into the third theme entry!
Whooooaaaaaaaaaaaa mind blown! To be able to pull this off so cleanly and effectively with solid and lengthy ZIPPER / MERGES is *chef’s kiss* and truly #constructorgoals. Wow! How this puzzle did not get the POW! over at xwordinfo, I’ll never understand.
Fun note: I picked up on the theme execution early on the in NW corner, and then it ended up making sense to fill the grid in a spiral pattern from NW to SW to SE to NE to N to center. Did anyone else have that same unusual solving flow? Did you enjoy this puzzle, too? Let us know in the comments section what you thought – and have a great weekend!
Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Change of Direction” — Matthew’s write-up
We have an early-presenting revealer at 24 Across today: [Make money, and an alternate title for this puzzle] TURN A PROFIT. Combined with the grid design — not a lot of long stuff — seems we’re in for an atypical theme.
Several down clues reference different countries’ “123 Across,” which turns out to be another revealer: [Money up front, and an alternate title for this puzzle] DOWN PAYMENT. Each of those entries are both the currency in the clued country AND a bridge entry in a themer that begins in an across entry, continues through the down entry, and ends in a linked across entry.
For example: 27a [*One concerned with possessions] appears to be MATER, which doesn’t make sense. But the R in MATER is the beginning of RIAL at 28d, and *that* L begins LIST at 43a. Together, MATERIALIST is an appropriate answer to [*One concerned with possessions].
In total, there’s:
- 27a [*One concerned with possessions] MATER / RIAL / LIST // MATERIALIST (RIAL clued as [123 Across in Iran?])
- 47a [*Have strong feelings (about)] CAR / REAL / LOT // CARE A LOT ([… in Brazil?])
- 53a [*Removes, as paint from a wall] SCRAP / PESO / OFF // SCRAPES OFF ([… in Mexico?])
- 60a [*Generating interest on top of interest one has already earned] COMP / POUND / ING // COMPOUNDING ([… in England?])
- 69a [*Art installation by Anya Gallaccio where 10,000 rose heads of the same color rest atop their stems and wither over time] RED / DONG / GREEN // RED ON GREEN ([… in Vietnam?])
- 75a [*Bibimbap or pilaf, e.g.] RIC / CEDI / ISH // RICE DISH ([… in Ghana?])
- 101a [*Repeatedly] OVER / RAND / OVER // OVER AND OVER ([… in South Africa?])
A deft theme — this solver has seen turning themers before but it’s all there for someone who might be seeing them gimmick for the first time. CEDI and DONG are less familiar than the other currencies but the former is pretty clear within RICE DISH, and the latter guessable with enough crossings in the across pieces of RED ON GREEN. I’m also a big fan of the symmetric revealer pair – a classic Evan touch.
- 1a [Caribbean music genre pioneered by Lord Shorty in the 1970s] SOCA. For the less musically inclined like myself, as in the Trinidad and Tobago national soccer team’s nickname, the Soca Warriors.
- 19a [Butler employee for short] PROF. Butler being the Indiana university — I tied myself in knots thinking of Jeeves-like entities.
- 58a [“It’s the stuff breakfast dreams are made of,” per Post] OREO O’S. I think everything I know about this cereal is from Evan’s crosswords. Can’t deny it’s a useful entry for constructors.
- 1d [Digital junk] SPAM. I came across some internet thing this week in which folks were surprised to learn this usage of SPAM derived from the Monty Python sketch. I felt old.
- 52d [Carbonated part of a float] COLA. This is utterly novel to me! I have never had a float with any pop other than root beer or orange.
- 124d [Joel Embiid’s org.] NBA. Once again Evan’s Philadelphia residence squeaks into his Washington-based puzzle – Embiid plays for the 76ers and was recently named MVP of the 2022-23 season.
Alex Eaton-Salners’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Green Groceries”—Jim’s review
The theme consists of food phrases whose final words are also slang for money. The revealer is MONEY HUNGRY (66d, [Greedy and avaricious … like someone devouring the ends of 3-, 8-, 16-, 39- and 64-Down]). Theme clues also feature a gentle bit of fiscal wordplay.
- 3d. [Grilled cheese ingredient that comes in singles?] MILD CHEDDAR.
- 8d. [Vegetable that fits the bill for kimchi?] NAPA CABBAGE.
- 16d. [Raw bar offerings found in banks?] FRESHWATER CLAMS.
- 39d. [Tender side like roti or tortillas?] UNLEAVENED BREAD.
- 64d. [Ice cream flavor that might be mint-based?] COOKIE DOUGH.
Alex sure makes it look easy! A nice, tight theme, wonderful fill, and grid art to boot. More please!
I love the grid design. Even though the corners are somewhat cut off, the fill was so smooth that everything flowed from one section to the next. Alex did (still does?) a lot of diagramless puzzles for the NYT, often with some sort of grid art, so it seems perfect to find a Sunday puzzle here at Universal where Jeff Chen is a vocal champion of such things. I hope we get to see more puzzles like this.
Let’s check out the fill ‘cuz there’s a lot to like starting off at 1a with BAM BAM. I don’t know the song [Camila Cabello hit with a repetitive title], but that’s a fun beginning. (It did help to make this NW section the last to fall for me, though.) I also like the word SATIETY just for its high-browedness. Elsewhere: THE ARTS, RED MEAT, DEATHLY Hallows, BOBBY SOX, PEAHEN, “BEATS ME!,” JAM CAM (rhyming with 1a), PERSIANS, EL BARTO (ha!), FELL SHY, BODEGAS, CATGUT, JENGA, SHOT PUT, and MARINES. I didn’t remember Bart Simpson’s alter ego, but it makes for great fill. But seriously, Bart, why would you put your own name in your graffiti tag?
Clues of note:
- 1a. [Camila Cabello hit with a repetitive title]. BAM BAM. If you thought this should’ve been clued via the Flintstones character, his name is spelled Bamm-Bamm.
- 34a. [Bird with an eye for eyes?]. PEAHEN. Tough but good clue. The peacock gets all the attention so nobody gives the PEAHEN much consideration.
- 67a. [MSFT coder]. DEV. It never dawned on me that MSFT is the stock symbol for Microsoft.
- 21d. [Use an umbrella, perhaps]. STAY DRY. We also would have accepted [Useless bit of advice to someone going out in the rain].
Excellent puzzle. 4.25 stars.
Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “RV Kitchen” — Darby’s write-up
Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer is a meal or ingredient made up of two words, the first letters of which spell out RV.
- 19a [“Taro or sweet potato”] ROOT VEGETABLE
- 37a [“Cuban dish with shredded beef”] ROPA VIEJA
- 55a [“Kitchen staple used in some pickling”] RICE VINEGAR
This was a really cute theme that brought some nice variety, moving from ROOT VEGETABLE to ROPA VIEJA to RICE VINEGAR. It definitely made me hungry, and I appreciated its connection to the tiny van/house trend that pops up as I scroll through TikTok.
This asymmetric grid incorporated a lot of longer answers in addition to the theme content. 26d [“Wasn’t eliminated”] MADE THE CUT was really fun. I also appreciated the combo of EURASIAN and JAMBOREE in the SE corner, with ARCHITECT just adjacent.
Some other faves:
- 10a [“Hit with a laser”] – ZAP felt harder than it should’ve – which is more of a comment o me than anything else – but once I got ZAMBIA, it gave me big Spaceman Spiff from Calvin & Hobbes vibes.
- 47a [“‘Piece of My Heart’ singer Franklin”] – ERMA Franklin is Aretha Franklin’s older sister, so needless to say, this was a talented family. ERMA was nominated for a Grammy for “Piece of My Heart.”
- 5d [“Cookie-flavored cereal”] – OREO O’S is such a fun crossword answer, even if I’m more partial to Cookie Crisp myself.
NYT: I immediately got the zipper merge concept, I just wish more drivers in my mid-
Atlantic travel zones would get it too. It’s not NASCAR, people.
As a fellow DC person I sympathize with you. But I can’t deny that I used to be among those who didn’t know about zipper merging, and sitting in what I *knew* to be the correct lane, having moved over in good time, I would get infuriated at all the *cheaters* who were cynically taking advantage of the empty space to unfairly *jump* the line. It was only after someone pointed me to the concept and I did the research that I came around. More education is needed!
Brilliant puzzle! This is that rare Sunday puzzle that I really enjoyed.
But: while the zipper merge is efficient in theory, the states still differ as to whether to encourage it, and that makes a great deal of practical difference.
I live in a state that gives NO merge instructions to drivers, which is the worst possible scenario IMO. Most people here still assume that the correct (and polite!) thing to do is to merge early.
In the absence of signage that directs drivers to “use both lanes until merge point”, if everyone else is merging early, I think it IS rude to be that guy that zooms up the empty lane and then wants to be given room to merge.
That’s a situation that’s ripe for road rage incidents, and that is unlikely to change until state DOT’s get with the program and provide appropriate signage. In the meantime, I think the “when in Rome” dictum applies.
By the colors in the solution above it looks like Nate ran into the same issue I had with NYT. I read 76D as CURLING instead of HURLING and assumed (curling played on ice rinks) the sport’s home might have been IcELAND. Oops!
There’s a frequent sentiment here at Crossword Fiend, when a clever theme entails an intricate construction: one can admire it without enjoying it, whether because the theme gets out of hand or the rest of the fill has to. And I did wonder if USE CASE and FENNEC were for real, on top of more even than usual of Shortz’s favored sci-fi. I also didn’t know the term at the heart of it all, here in the NYC metro area, where density doesn’t allow that much discretion to drivers.
But I must have known the concept if not the term, as the theme fell quickly, and I really enjoyed it. I also relied on the lower entries to get the merging top ones. I could admire the construction, too.
I’m in the ‘clever construction but not that much fun camp’ on this one. The only case where the merging answers helped was in figuring out that REDLANTERN was intended at 14D. For the rest I just filled in the merged sections and assumed they would work out correctly.
USECASE meant nothing to me but I liked seeing FENNEC. In yesterday’s Spelling Bee, FENNEC was not a legit word. Go figure.
Evan’s puzzle was cleverly constructed, as always, and understanding how it worked was (for me) crucial in getting several of the correct answers. A much better puzzle than the NYT, IMO.
Tsk tsk, David L, of course FENNEC would not be in the BEE; it’s not a weird food or an obscure scientific term. :-)
Definitely in the impressive-but-no-fun camp here. Growing up in the Northeast I’ve most frequently heard it called alternate merge.
FENNEC was a gimme, but I’m reminded of another carnivore that I was surprised to find is not even in the very expansive UK Scrabble lexicon: FALANOUC.
Now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure there’s an ‘alternate merge’ sign somewhere in the DC area — maybe as you take Rte 5o onto the Roosevelt bridge into DC from Virginia?
I was taught “bread & butter” for merging in the 60s — which might have just been my father.
Count me as one more who was impressed by the concept and construction of the NYT puzzle, but who didn’t enjoy it much.
When answers that seemed right wouldn’t fit, I ignored it and went for other answers that worked.
I figured out the trick a third of the way into it, when I got the ZIPPER MERGES revealer. I used the trick to solve some of the theme answers.
I really enjoyed it and I really don’t understand the sentiment that is very popular here that not only are most complex puzzles are impressive but not very much fun, but that there is a moral imperative to come to this site and let everybody know how not fun you found it.
And that added something to the conversation?
I think my contribution is likely more valuable than the many people (if for no other sake than breaking up the monotony) who chime in on puzzles to proclaim that they were not fun but very rarely provide any meaningful or constructive criticism.
There’s no one more sensitive here than the bellyachers who have their bellyaching gently pointed out. Imagine if you had to weather the criticism you dole out to constructors if you get so huffy when I provide 1% of it to you!
Translation: [sustained fart noise]
Translation: I like my irrelevant bellyaching and can’t handle criticism!
Here’s some specific criticism: Out of 142 clues, I count three that were pretty clever (those for SILVER MEDAL, IPAD, and EMAIL). I don’t expect every clue to make me chuckle or at least ponder, but the bulk of the clues were straightforward.
And there’s a number of weird words: USE CASE (I tried to read the Wikipedia article on that and lost interest), STASES, and SALT PIT are probably the least common).
Agreed on SILVER MEDAL, IPAD, and EMAIL. I’ll note that in my experience, anyone adjacent to web or tech development is extremely familiar with “use case;” that one was a total gimme to me, and I’m pretty peripheral to tech. It’s just a way of thinking through how people might use an app/website/technology. To me, that makes it fair game for crosswords.
That’s not really a constructive criticism, though. It’s not meaningful or actionable to say that you didn’t find many clues clever. Seasoned solvers have their preferences for the precise balance of cleverness vs. straightforwardness, just as editors and publications have their preferred balance. If their balance didn’t match your preferences, who actually cares, and why is my comment pointing that out the unwelcome one where your specifically unsought opinion is soooooooooooo valuable?
My solving experience devolved into getting the beginnings of the answers but not bothering with reading every-other-letter in the merged entries. When the unified entry was solvable my work was done.
NYT: a fun doozy! Once we figured out the zipper pattern we had a blast. Was not a fan of USECASE, but ok.
NYT: Loved this one! Incredible feat of construction. For those who solve in the app, this puzzle is a great example of why it’s good to have the “Show Overlays” option turned on. If not, I can imagine that not seeing all of the merge symbols would have made solving this one very difficult.
WaPo: In TURNAPROFIT, 11d PRO makes a u-turn up 12d TIFF – turning a PROFIT.
Is this just a coincidence, an easter egg?
Just a coincidence, but that’s funny.
NYT – I too enjoyed this puzzle, and didn’t find it overly challenging… especially since I paid attention to the little author bio which referred to 111D which I knew and from there I took the unusual practice of solving from the bottom up which got me a useful word in 89D that I was eventually able to connect with the two immediately superior entries, after which the rest was apparent.