Sunday, July 30, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 13:03 (Nate) 


USA Today 4:25 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 14:30 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 4:40 (Matthew) 


John Kugelman’s New York Times crossword, “Doing Front Flips” — Nate’s write-up

07.30.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

07.30.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

Reverend Spooner has found this ear of this week’s New York Times debut constructor – let’s take a look!

– 23A: MISTER BUNNY MAGS [“Hugh Hefner was quite the media mogul. They called him …”] – a play on “Mister Money Bags”
– 38A: WEARABLE THING TO TASTE [“I know they’ve had them on all day, but let the kids eat their candy. After all, a Ring Pop is a …”] – a play on “terrible thing to waste”
– 56A: GEEKS BEARING GRIFTS [“Do you really trust these Bitcoiners? Beware …”] – a play on ??? (maybe “Greeks bearing gifts,” though that’s new to me if that’s it)
– 78A: WHEN IT PAINS IT ROARS [“That poor lion has a mighty toothache. Boy, …”] – a play on “when it rains, it pours”
– 94A: THREE MARE SQUEALS A DAY [“Enjoy your stay on our horse farm. Hope it’s not too noisy. You can expect …”] – a play on “three square meals a day”
– 114A: THRONE’S STOWAWAY [“Can you believe I sneaked into Buckingham Palace in a trunk and saw the king? I was a …”] – a play on “stone’s throw away”

I liked this theme idea, especially with how many long, vibrant phrases were at play. I think where I got stuck a little is that none of these were true Spoonerisms – instead, only two of the words swapped their fronts and it wasn’t consistent throughout the puzzle as to which words in each sequence did the swapping. It took me a while to suss out what 38A played on, and I’m still not 100% on which phrase 56A is playing on. The second half of the puzzle’s themes felt strongest to me, and THRONE’S STOWAWAY was absolutely my favorite!

What I loved about this puzzle:
– Some of the fill felt quite modern! An “Oppenheimer” reference for NOLAN, EVS, MEANIE, FOB, EVIL LAUGH, AUNTIE, ROSE PARADE, PASS/FAIL, and HATE READ all stood out to me as fun entries.
– It largely felt like a smooth, quick solve, which I appreciated!

What I didn’t love as much about this puzzle:
– There was also plenty of old, fusty, or choppy fill, including CHAUTAUQUA, UPSY, ISR, ODEUM, A DRAG, DRYAD, RUNNETH, a dated IBM reference, ALPE, HESTER, ESSE, IER, and ARR (not ARG?) stood out to me just as much as the entries I really enjoyed. A mixed bag for me, for sure.
– I have a bone to pick with the editing of the 76D / 84A self-referential pair of TI? / TA?, which could have easily been (in my opinion) TIC / TAC or even TIP / TAP. Both of those were answers I settled on way before I ran the alphabet to get the “correct” answer of TIT / TAT. Oof.

Even with the dings against this puzzle, this all-in-all felt like one of the better NYT Sunday puzzles recently and certainly a strong puzzle for one’s NYT debut! Congrats indeed to the constructor!

What did you enjoy about the puzzle? Let us know in the comments below – and have a great weekend!

LA Times crossword “Double Plays” by Desirée Penner & Jeff Sinnock — Jack’s write-up

The theme is a bit tough to describe succinctly. Themers are two song titles by the same artist/group concatenated to make silly phrases. One song is an imperative phrase and one song is named after a person or character. The clues are all in quotes, imagining speaking the imperative phrase to a character from one of the songs. Examples will help:

July 30th 2023 LA Times crossword solution — “Double Plays” by Desirée Penner & Jeff Sinnock

  • 23A. [“Time to blaze a trail in frozen desserts, Ms. Lee”] = GO YOUR OWN WAY, SARA (Fleetwood Mac)
  • 37A. [“You’ll never make it big in the toy industry, Holly Hobbie!”] = DREAM ON, RAG DOLL (Aerosmith)
  • 50A. [“Stop tormenting the mail carrier, you mangy mutt!”] = DON’T BE CRUEL, HOUND DOG (Elvis Presley)
  • 73A. [“Whoa there, cowboy”] = TAKE IT EASY, DESPERADO (Eagles)
  • 88A. [“Stop futzing with that, Mr. Law”] = HEY JUDE, LET IT BE (The Beatles)
  • 106A. [Get off the court, Ms. King!] = BEAT IT, BILLIE JEAN (Michael Jackson)

I’ve seen themes based on concatenating members of some common set before (board games, candy brands, etc.), but I appreciate that this one tightens the concept in multiple ways. Both songs within each theme entry come from the same artist/group. That’s a massive restriction that makes the finds more compelling. Second, the unusual idea to clue all of them as commanding quotations spoken to some character from one of the songs. This adds a consistency throughout that I found rewarding. I wonder if there’s a briefer way to describe what’s going on here.

It was a slow solve for me. Music is a weak point in my knowledge so I’m grateful that the constructors chose relatively well-known songs by massively famous artists, but I still imagine that audiophiles would have had an easier time auto-completing partial theme entries than I did. I also found the cluing skewed a little tougher than average for a Sunday. Not in a bad way.

A few extra notes:

  • 27A. [Classic songs] = STANDARDS. Interesting that there’s a clue so theme-adjacent hanging around at 27-Across. I wonder if that was an intentional nod to the theme? Standards can be clued in so many other ways. I think I would have preferred a different clue just to not muddle the theme concept so early on before most solvers had discovered it.
  • 49D. [Fire proof?] = SOOT. Nice tough clue. Soot remains as proof that a fire once burned here.
  • 33A. [Like fancy caramel] = SALTED. I don’t think I share the association that salted caramel is any fancier than other caramels.

I enjoyed this oddball puzzle.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Cross-Examination” — Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Cross-Examination,” 7/30/2023

Themers contain different alphabet soup-y names of standardized tests, and cross at common letters in those tests, thus the title “Cross-Examination.”

  • 22a [In a puzzling way] ENIGMATICALLY
  • 24d [Muscle bending a digit] TOE FLEXOR. GMAT crossing TOEFL.
  • 73a [Detailed record of software errors] BUG REPORT
  • 44d [Something raised during a homecoming?] GARAGE DOOR. GRE crossing GED.
  • 76a [2019 documentary about a nontheistic religious organization that’s “putting up a hell of a fight” for justice and equality, per the film’s tagline] HAIL SATAN
  • 49d [Is difficult to lift, exaggeratedly] WEIGHS A TON. LSAT crossing SAT.
  • 114a [Actress who played Samantha Jones on “Sex and the City”] KIM CATTRALL
  • 81d [Took away (from)] DETRACTED. MCAT crossing ACT.

TOEFL is perhaps the least crossword-familiar of our selection here; it is the “Test Of English as a Foreign Language,” assessing English-language proficiency.

Interesting theme, that’s pretty clear mid-solve. I appreciate that the four crossing points are arranged symmetrically, and the theme entries are colorful with interesting clues. And yet I find myself wanting more. How reasonable that is, I don’t know, but with only the smaller chunks of the longest answers relevant to the theme, it largely feels like a themeless to me.

EDIT: To the above point, I missed a revealer and a second layer:

123a [Any of the eight circled words in this puzzle, and what’s spelled out by their intersections] TEST. That’s a nice additional flourish that I was right to expect, and shortsighted to think wasn’t there. Alas.



  • 29a [2013 title role for Judi] PHILOMENA. Her seventh (of eight to date) Oscar nomination.
  • 30a [___ Centre (Toronto shopping mall)] EATON. Named after a onetime anchor tenant, the Eaton Centre sits above two separate subway stations and is both Toronto’s most visited tourist attraction and North America’s busiest shopping mall.
  • 76a [lengthy clue above] HAIL SATAN? (The ? is part of the film’s title). I should add this documentary to my list; I’m a big fan of The Satanic Temple’s advocacy and activism working to preserve a separation of church and state.
  • 39d [Timothy Leary’s drug] LSD and 41d [Timothy Leary’s deg.] PHD. I’m sad I didn’t notice these consecutive clues until just now. I’m prone to liking serifs like this, but it can be overdone, too. This one is nice IMO.
  • 44d [Something raised during a homecoming?] GARAGE DOOR. A themer, but also a really excellent play on “homecoming” that I enjoyed piecing out.
  • 56d [Rock band whose name is two letters off from their 2005 album “Oh No”] OK GO. I’m really only including this so I can drop the treadmill video below.
  • 64d [Tony who was nicknamed “America’s Puppet Master”] SARG. Um, sure. Sarg was most active between WWI and WWII. Is this a big knowledge gap for me, or just a piece of fill to make the grid work?

Michael Wiesenberg and Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Algebra Exam”—Jim’s review

Xs mark the spots where we have some variables in today’s grid. The revealer is SOLVE FOR X (70a, [*Algebra instruction that has three different answers within today’s puzzle]). Those three different solutions for X are:

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Algebra Exam” · Michael Wiesenberg and Jeff Chen · 7.30.23

TEN: 45a, [*What X can represent, in Roman numerals (see 1-Across, 32-Across, 1-Down and 14-Down)].

    • 1a. [*Dime’s value]. X CENTS.
    • 32a. [*Stick mentioned in a common saying]. X FOOT POLE.
    • 1d. [*Many a road bike]. X SPEED.
    • 14d. [*Foundation of the decimal system]. BASE X.

TIMES: 44d, [*What X can represent, in math (see 7-Across, 64-Across, 12-Down and 36-Down)].

    • 7a. [*Sessions for reading to kids]. STORY X.
    • 64a. [*1854 Dickens novel about a difficult era]. HARD X.
    • 12d. [*Grid of numbers that students must learn]. X TABLE. A bit of a cheat since  44d is already referring to multiplication.
    • 36d. [*Measurements of how quickly one can respond to a stimulus]. REACTION X.

KISS: 82d, [*What X can represent, in a love letter (see 67-Across, 90-Across, 38-Down and 69-Down)].

  • 67a. [*Toadied (to)]. XED UP.
  • 90a. [*Lip-puckering expression in selfies]. XY-FACE.
  • 38d. [*Foil-wrapped chocolate]. HERSHEY’S X.
  • 69d. [*Complimentary mealtime gesture]. CHEF’S X.

My first reaction: What a “strike”-ing grid (lol see what I did there?).

But solving with Black Ink software on a Mac, I did what I suspect many of us did: put in full, rebussed words in the X squares. So the software didn’t give me the “happy pencil” when I thought I was done. Thus began 2.5 minutes of searching for a typo. Finally, I gave up and hit “reveal entire puzzle” to see all my hard-typed rebuses turn to Xs.

In hindsight, I should have realized Xs go in those squares. But when you have what looks like a rebus to us long-time solvers at square one (well before you get to the theme revealer), we’ll put in a rebus and go from there. Perhaps if the Xs were actual Xs in the Down direction, I would have caught on.

Regardless, nice puzzle. I started in the NW and proceeded all the way around in a counterclockwise fashion. It went mostly smoothly with only a couple sticking points that were cleared up relatively quickly. Good choices for theme entries, especially the KISS ones.


In the “sticking points” category: SHE-CRAB [Southern soup using female crustaceans] (here’s a recipe and a little history) and proper names PLATT, HALEMUSTAFA, and MCRAE.

Clues of note:

  • 83a. [Prez on the dime]. FDR. I see “Prez,” I put in ABE. That’s how I’ve been trained. Then I go with IKE. If those don’t work, then I actually read the clue and think about it.
  • 18d. [“Real Wild ___” (hit song covered by Joan Jett)]. CHILD. Iggy Pop’s cover is the one I’ve heard most, but Joan Jett’s rocks as well (see below). And for a different—but still rockin’ take—here’s Jerry Lee Lewis’s version from 1958. Here’s some history of the song; it’s credited for ushering in Australia’s Rock and Roll era.
  • 85d. [Non-silence of the lamb?]. MAA. This is the second time recently I’ve seen a sheep say MAA. Let’s stick to the crossword rules: Sheep say “baa,” goats say MAA.

Good puzzle. An eye-catching design and smooth execution. Four stars.

Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Open Late” — Darby’s write-up

Theme: LATE bookends each of the theme answers, making it open to other letters.

Theme Answers

Amanda Rafkin's USA Today crossword, "Open Late" solution for 7/30/2023

Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Open Late” solution for 7/30/2023


  • 20a [Shaft to drop dirty clothes down] LAUNDRY CHUTE
  • 38a [Right before the deadline] LAST MINUTE
  • 58a [Certain disagreement between employers and employees] LABOR DISPUTE

It took me a second to figure out the theme here, but I really appreciated the variety in the themers. LABOR DISPUTE felt very pertinent, and I thought LAUNDRY CHUTE was very fun. Plus, they together provided a solid amount of theme content.

I was able to move pretty quickly through the puzzle, switching back and forth between Across and Down answers. As always, the grid felt very clean. I initially missed 2d [Island that’s the largest producer of Indonesian coffee] SUMATRA, but between the cross at 1a ASAP, ACCLAIM, and AROUSES, that came together smoothly. Likewise, I overthought 49d [“Me day” destination] SPA DAY.

Other favourite pieces of fill included BUYER’S GUIDE, KOSHER DIET, and WATERCOLOR.

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25 Responses to Sunday, July 30, 2023

  1. JohnH says:

    Um, I’d have thought “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” a reference to the Trojan horse, had become common literate knowledge, but whatever. I’ve a fondness for Spoonerisms, which justified the medium execution more than enough. (Yeah, terrible / WEARABLE doesn’t sound all that close, but maybe it’s that Chicago thing again.)

    • Nate Cardin says:

      Oh, me not knowing “Greeks bearing gifts” is a reflection on my lack of knowledge, not on the constructor’s choice of theme entry. Googling around seems to support the phrase quite strongly! I was just commenting on my own experience as a solver.

      • JohnH says:

        Please don’t blame yourself, but thanks for the note. I see a Wiki article notes that the phrase (adapted, pretty wildly, from an incident in The Aeneid, where a warrior with a grain of sense says “I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts” and is promptly ignored, like seers in several other ancient tales) entered culture broadly with everything from the original Three Musketeers to a 1956 film “Helen of Troy” to a Sean Connery film and Inspector Morse. I didn’t know that.

    • Eric H says:

      GEEKS BEARING GRIFTS is by far the best of the theme answers, in no small part because it accurately describes cryptocurrency.

    • Matt Gritzmacher says:

      An absolutely lovely thing about “Greeks bearing gifts”: an equally valid translation of that line in the Aeneid is “beware of gifts bearing Greeks”

    • Dallas says:

      Fun theme answers, and most of the fill went pretty smoothly (in about half the time as yesterday’s Saturday!). I had to look up EGESTS later to confirm… and, of course, a straight up Latin clue shows up today right after I claimed my Latin to be useless in crosswords ;-)
      As a dad, many of these felt veritably dad-jokey, especially THRONES STOWAWAY. And GEEKS BEARING GRIFTS is spot-on.

    • Gary R says:

      WEARABLE THING TO TASTE works fine to my ear, but I’m a Midwesterner. I wonder if this answer started out with a racier clue before the NYT editors weighed in.

  2. Seattle DB says:

    I’m a 68 year old retired guy who lives alone and I truly enjoy this website, the reviewers, and the “Common-Taters” (that’s a pun that will be revealed soon). In my decade or so of diving into the “crossword pool”, this website is the best, and I give kudos to Amy and her gang for providing a desperately needed social-service outlet for us elderly people to stay in touch with mainstream society.

    On a personal note, my tastes linger towards Evan B @ WaPo for the fabulous 21×21 puzzles that he cranks out every weekend. And my next best constructors are part of the “3M” group: Matt Jones, Matt Gaffney, and Mike Graczyk.

    All of these constructors somehow manage to squeeze educational material into their crosswords that is also fun and full of puns! (Isn’t that the best way to grow the crossword community?)

  3. John Morgan says:

    This week’s NYT brought to mind (for me) the late, great Maura Jacobson. These sorts of Spoonerism-type themes are always favourites for me, even if my solving time is often not as quick. I agreed with you on TI? TA? as I had TIC and TAC, but then I acknowledge that they are not complete without “TOE” so TIT and TAT is a better answer.

    • marciem says:

      I thought tic and tac were fine because of the candy/mints sold at every checkout counter in the universe :) . Until I was wrong. And they aren’t really counterparts by definition, which tit (for) tat is.

      I love love love spoonerisms so this was my happy place Sunday NYT! My fave was the Geeks bearing grifts, as Eric H noted above it is too true! (IMO). And I appreciate Matt G’s comment above about the Trojan horse and gifts bearing Greeks. I’d never heard of that but so valid!

  4. Dan says:

    I found today’s “Classic” Merl Reagle puzzle “Stereo Homophones” one of his best ever, and distinctly tougher than his typical classic fare.*

    * Available at

  5. Art Shapiro says:

    UC Sunday: I couldn’t make ANY sense of the puzzle. Upon looking at the review, I realized that Nexus Solver completely mangled both the grid and the numbering, making it impossible to solve the puzzle. I see in retrospect that AcrossLite does it correctly, but I’m not sure I’ll go back and tackle it.

  6. JT says:

    NYT started off for me on a bad foot as I missed last week’s and did it before this, so it was weird seeing ESTEE (for Lauder) again, but EVIL LAUGH got me really vibing with this puzzle and I picked up the theme answers after my first pass on the down. I also got hung up on TIC-TAC, which recently did show its face in a puzzle, but otherwise I was surprised to see so low a rating here as I enjoyed this one well enough.

    • marciem says:

      *”I was surprised to see so low a rating here as I enjoyed this one well enough.”*

      I so agree. All the comments have been pretty positive, I see no reasons given for the lower ratings. Simply clicking on “hated it”(one star) without a comment makes EvanB’s statement that “the ratings mean noting at all” pretty true (even though I normally don’t fully agree with that statement).

  7. Betty Asmus says:

    Loved the LA Times puzzle! Kudos to Desiree Penner & Jeff Sinnock and great analysis by Jack! It was just plain Fun!! Lots of great “oldies”. My husband is 83 and I am 77 so it’s nice for a change to have a puzzle that referenced music more familiar to us.

    • Eric H says:

      I count 12 songs, and only one (Aerosmith’s RAG DOLL) that I can’t hear in my head. That shows a definite skewing towards oldies, but that’s OK, I’m old. It would have been nice to see at least one pairing of songs from this century, even if I didn’t recognize them.

      Musically speaking, GO YOU OWN WAY, SARA would be my favorite, but as a puzzle entry, I think I prefer BEAT IT, BILLIE JEAN!

      I could have sworn the clue for SEARS (“Former name on a Chicago skyscraper”) did not have “former” in it when I solved the puzzle. Just my inattentive reading, I guess.

      Perhaps “imperative medleys” describes the theme more succinctly? (Though that does raise the question of whether two songs can constitute a medley.)

  8. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Tony SARG is all over the NYT archives from the 1990’s. I’ve seen him enough times now that he’s a gimme, but the first time I encountered him in a puzzle, I had no idea who he was. I have heard of his protégé, Bil Baird, in real life, but even Baird has been dead for 30+ years. (Which is a long way of saying that SARG is just fill, as far as I’m concerned.)

    I used the theme to make sense of the bottom center area. MCAT got me KIM CATTRALL. I knew she was on “Sex and the City,” but I have never seen that show and the only characters I can name are Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big.

    Fiend folks: I rated this one three stars, but I intended to give it four. If y’all can fix that, I’d appreciate it.

  9. Seattle DB says:

    USAT: I gave the puzzle one star b/c the editor blew the clue & answer for 49D. “Me day destination” and the answer is “Spa day”. Bzzzt! And Amanda Rafkin edited her own puzzle…

  10. BavinBrielle says:

    I just got to the Universal Sunday today and thought it was terrific. With Algebra in the title and X in the design of the puzzle, I never thought of rebus (sorry, Jim). Not too hard, but quite an ingenious layout.

  11. Tamara says:

    I enjoyed the NYT spoonerisms, but the ti_ and ta_ clues wrecked it for me. I think it was bad editing because tic tac ARE counterparts. They are two words that correspond to each other. And there was absolutely no other way to get the “right” answer since the letter in question was common.

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