Sunday, August 13, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 16:14 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:00 (Jim) 


Universal 3:34 (norah) 


WaPo 5:08 (Matthew) 


Manaal Mohammed’s New York Times crossword, “Use Your Noodle” — Nate’s write-up

08.13.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

08.13.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 23A MEALS ON WHEELS [Cookbook for rotelle lovers?]
– 27A ELBOW GREASE [Olive oil for a macaroni salad?]
– 45A GET BETWEEN THE SHEETS [Advice for saucing a lasagna?]
– 55A RIBBON CUTTING [Running fettucine dough through the pasta machine?]
– 68A SHELL STATIONS [Self-serve spots at pasta bars?]
– 80A SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL [Kitchen disaster with rotini?]
– 100A BUTTERFLIES / IN YOUR STOMACH [With 108-Across, aftermath of a farfalle dinner?]

I really, really liked this theme, with most of the themers feeling clever, tight, and fresh in a way that brought a smile to my face multiple times. MEALS ON WHEELS, SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL, and BUTTERFLIES / IN YOUR STOMACH particularly made me envious as a constructor that these weren’t my ideas. Puzzles like this that play with language in such a fun and controlled way are what make me come back to crosswords again and again. That this is the constructor’s debut NYT puzzle makes it even more impressive an offering. Kudos!

I especially enjoyed entries like MOMMIE Dearest, SUZE ORMAN, and a reference to Miley Cyrus at [Party in] THE USA, which made me feel a bit like a TARGET [___ audience] for this puzzle. SHOEGAZE and NEOPET were also fun entries!

The only two tricky parts for me were (a) the UHH / HOTEL RATE crossing (where I initially had UMM / MOTEL RATE for ages) and (b) the bottom right corner, where it took me some work to break in – for whatever reason, TORO / CONGAS clue cleverly / GOBANG / GAH was enough of a mystery to me that I couldn’t quite fit everything together until the end (all fair, though!).

What did you think of the puzzle? Did you enjoy it like I did – and did it make you as hungry, too? Let us know in the comments, and have a great weekend. I hope there’s a pasta (or pasta substitute) meal in your future!

Universal, “Themeless Sunday 46” by Rebecca Goldstein and Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up; 3:34

THEME: None!

Favorite entries:



  • ESPRESSOMARTINI 39A [Cocktail made with a double shot?]
  • CHEESEPULL 17A [Big stretch in food advertising?]
  • KENDOLL 20A [Toy model?]
  • PARTYTRICK 11D [Tying a cherry stem with your tongue, e.g.]
  • KEEPITREAL 28D [Didn’t sugarcoat things]
  • SMELLTEST 5D [Assessment involving a sniff]
  • DRUNKTEXT 34D [“u uppp?” could be one]


YAY! A puzzle from BFFS 54D [Pals such as this puzzle’s constructors] Rebecca and Rafa!

Ultra smooth and swift for me. Squeaky clean everywhere. The specific evocativeness of TOE 46D [Digit touched when checking shoe fit] made me lol. Were you two hungry when you made this? Because solving it made me hungry. I count 13 food/drink references😋

I’ve only ever heard SMELLTEST used metaphorically – is it also used, say, when determining “is this still good” re a carton of milk? I could see that.

If you like Rebecca’s puzzles (like me) and you like 17A and cheese (like me), you might also like the WSJ puzzle from July 11. Rebecca is one of the many talented people writing for Lollapuzzoola this year – see you there!

Thanks Rebecca, Rafa, and the Universal team!


LA Times crossword “Blood Bank” by Matthew Stock — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Letters are added to or subtracted from common phrases according to the eight blood types (e.g. type AB+ is interpreted as “add the letters ‘AB’ to a phrase to make a new one”). The alterations create new funny phrases with outlandish clues.

August 13th, 2023 LA Times crossword solution — “Blood Bank” by Matthew Stock

  • 23A. [Excuse for a presidency’s shortcomings? (A+)] = FAILING CABINET (filing cabinet plus an ‘A’)
  • 33A. [Where Parisians get their newspapers? (A-)] = LE MONDE STANDS (lemonade stands minus the ‘A’)
  • 49A. [Oscar the Grouch’s backing instrumentalists? (B+)] = GARBAGE BAND (garage band plus the ‘B’)
  • 53A. [Angry tennis player, perhaps? (B-)] = RACKET BUSTER (bracket buster minus a ‘B’)
  • 74A. [Barista-inspired dessert? (O+)] = AMERICANO PIE (American pie plus the ‘O’)
  • 76A. [Warmup stretches at a company retreat? (O-)] = STAFF LUNGES (staff lounges minus the ‘O’)
  • 91A. [Excited cry when the shellfish course finally arrives? (AB+)] = ABALONE AT LAST (alone at last plus the ‘AB’)
  • 106A. [Reason so many classic songs are earworms? (AB-)] = OLD HITS DIE HARD (old habits die hard minus the ‘AB’)

I really like this theme. Add-a-letter and subtract-a-letter themes are as old as crosswords, but this is a truly original take. It’s one of those ideas that’s so ripe for puzzles, that I’m kicking myself for never discovering it. The implementation is just right too. All eight blood types are used. The AB addition/subtraction occur next to each other in their phrases as opposed to split up. I don’t know why this feels important, but it does. In most themes of this type, you’re adding or subtracting the same string from all of the themers, which can get repetitive. The changing nature here kept my attention and allowed Matthew to pick the strongest candidates for each slot — LE MONDE STANDS, GARBAGE BAND, ABALONE AT LAST, and OLD HITS DIE HARD are my favorites.

Eight long themers can pressure a grid, so I’m impressed at how smooth the fill is and that we get a few nice bonus entries as well. HALAL MEAT, OFF CAMERA, and my favorite entry in the puzzle: YUK IT UP. The bottom left corner of the puzzle was by far the toughest for me. I didn’t know the use of the word DUB to mean [Confer knighthood on] (96A.), and I had “err” at 97A. [Mess up] before correcting it to MAR.

11D. [Solid yellow ball] = ONE was so inscrutable to me until I found its partner 67D. [Striped yellow ball] = NINE and realized the connection to pool. 83D. [Dinner rolls?] = SUSHI is a nice clue.

I thoroughly enjoyed this bloody Sunday.

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

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Cybercafe” solution, 8/13/2023

A good old punny theme set bridging the worlds of IT and cuisine:

  • 23a [Crispy snacks you have when examining your laptop’s circuitry?] SILICON CHIPS
  • 33a [Dessert wine you have when setting up an inkjet?] PRINTER PORT
  • 48a [Candy you have when typing in a URL?] ADDRESS BAR
  • 58a [Meat you have when deleting junk from your inbox?] EMAIL SPAM
  • 66a [Dessert you have when a website tracks your user information?] INTERNET COOKIES
  • 79a [Noodles you have when repeatedly sharing a block of text on social media?] COPYPASTA
  • 90a [Soda you have when navigating a window?] BROWSER TAB
  • 103a [Sausages you have when URLs stop working?] BROKEN LINKS
  • 117a [Document listing the food and drink items in this puzzle?] COMPUTER MENU

Nothing out of place in that theme set, in my opinion. Just nine solid, in-the-language entries. I would be inclined to provide a quick blurb on COPYPASTA, but happily it was just in the New York Times in the last few days. Think new-school campfire ghost stories, though COPYPASTA needn’t necessarily be spooky (a common subgenre is “creepypasta”).

I found the fill a bit tougher than usual for Evan this week. Combined with nine themers and a resultant grid with not many connective downs, it was a chewy one-track trip from top to bottom.

Briefer set of notes this weekend:

  • 28a [“___ on a Feeling” (hit for B.J. Thomas and Blue Swede)] HOOKED. The Blue Swede version contains the “Ooga Chaka” chant at the beginning, while Thomas’ original doesn’t.
  • 94a [PGA Tour Champions golfer Mark] OMEARA. I was aware of O’Meara in the late 90s hanging around my grandparents’ house with golf on, and haven’t been aware of him outside of puzzles since. But his letters are too good! “PGA Tour Champions” is the current name of the PGA’s senior tour.
  • 18d [Birds ___ Real (mock conspiracy theory that states birds no longer exist and have been replaced by drones)] ARENT. It pays to be a regular solver, as you’ll recognize this as the revealer of a tricky Evan puzzle from a few weeks back.
  • 37d [Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Johnson] ANDRE. One of the premier receivers of the 2000s, Johnson may be underrated as he spent most of his career on bad teams in Houston. He’s one of only 14 players in league history with at least 1,000 receptions.

Pam Amick Klawitter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Job Descriptions”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases of the form adjective-ending-in-ING + plural-noun except those adjectives are punnily re-purposed as gerunds.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Job Descriptions” · Pam Amick Klawitter · 8.13.23

  • 22a. [Job description for a real estate flipper?] CLEARING HOUSES.
  • 45a. [… for a paparazzo?] SHOOTING STARS.
  • 68a. [… for a bra salesperson?] MEASURING CUPS. Maybe more of a job for the bra designer, but still, a good entry.
  • 94a. [… for a web developer?] BUILDING SITES.
  • 120a. [… for a Formula 1 racer?] LEARNING CURVES. Nice one.
  • 15d. [… at a Planters factory?] PACKING PEANUTS.
  • 51d. [… for a manicurist?] FINISHING NAILS.

A fun theme with a good amount of humor. Each one is well in-the-language, and all the re-imaginings make sense. Maybe FINISHING NAILS isn’t as well known outside of woodworkers or home DIY-ers, but it’s definitely a thing.

Outside the theme, I was struck by what felt like a lot of proper names. At one point, it seemed like I was coming across one with every other entry, especially in the lower left corner. Thankfully, there weren’t many difficult crossings (maybe that PAULEY/OAKIE/SKOKIE section is one), so it was all gettable for me. New to me is GARRET [Starving artist’s attic quarters]; at least it’s new vocabulary and not another proper name.

The theme takes up most of the real estate, but there are a few goodies in there like SUPERMAN, HOTSPOT, and PIT STOP.

Clues of note:

  • 49a. [LMAO cousin]. ROFL. The L is “laughing” in both cases. Does that count as a dupe?
  • 100a. [Inexplicably stop answering texts]. GHOST. I like the modern slangy angle here.
  • 123a. [Karl of “Patton”]. MALDEN. Didn’t know he was in that film, but he was pretty iconic in the show The Streets of San Francisco. Not that younger solvers would know him at all.
  • At least a couple proper names (BRIE and DEMI) could’ve been re-clued as regular entries.

Nice puzzle. 3.5 stars.

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29 Responses to Sunday, August 13, 2023

  1. e.a. says:

    seconding Nate – that nyt theme is so damn good

  2. Eric H says:

    NYT: The theme was solid and the clues for the theme answers amused me. I loved seeing SHOEGAZE in the grid, because only a few hours earlier, I had been wondering if it had ever been in a puzzle before.

    But the GAH/GO BANG crossing frustrated me. BAH makes as much sense as GAH there, and I don’t know much about Japanese board games (though I do know Go is a game). It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for that corner. Still, it’s a nice debut.

    • Dallas says:

      I had the same issue down there; to me, GAH is frustrated while BAH is dismissive, so a more on-the-nose clue that “Ugh!” might’ve helped me. Luckily it was my final issue to fix. I was a bit slow to put in SHOEGAZE because I didn’t know it had any connection to psychedelic… I thought it was an offshoot of Emo. I also had JAPES instead of CAPER which took me a while to fix, and the down of ARREAR was no help. I was also solving on a plane because I didn’t want to try to do the Sunday puzzle with jet lag in Germany…

      All of that said… Loved the theme! Great spins on well-known phrases with good cluing. I would think that stacking the theme answers probably made it tougher to construct but a nice result in the end.

    • JohnH says:

      SHOEGAZE was brand new to me, but I’m fine with learning it. I got double-crossed, though, on GOBANG / GAH, too. I had a B. Didn’t help me that, in trying to confirm a second guess, Googling Japanese board game gobang gave me hits for a different game with the same alternative name.

      • JohnH says:

        I stand corrected, as RCook describes the problem better. The hits took me to Gomoku and, indeed, a Wiki article that never once mentions GOBANG.

        Oh, I, too, am used to BETWEEN THE SHEETS without GET, but I put it down to my ignorance. Couldn’t tell you whether I’m wrong. I also didn’t really remember which shapes went with which pasta or macaroni, so I wasn’t as wowed with the theme as I might otherwise have been, but it’s impressively implemented with lots of theme entries.

    • David L says:

      Yep, same problem with BAH/GAH. Could be either, as far as I can see.

      Also, GETBETWEENTHESHEETS doesn’t seem like a standard phrase.

    • RCook says:

      GOBANG tripped me up because I know Five in a Row as Gomoku. Even the Wikipedia article for the game doesn’t mention Gobang except in a reference title.

  3. Gary R says:

    NYT: Good puzzle! Fun theme and more entertaining cluing than usual for a Sunday NYT.

    My favorite themer was SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL – had to chuckle out loud at that one.

    It took me a long time to see BUTTERFLIES IN YOUR STOMACH because I think of farfalle as bowties rather than butterflies – and of course, I had the initial “B,” so I thought some of the other crosses must be screwed up.

    The SE corner also took me a while. GAH made more sense to me than bAH, but I didn’t know GO BANG or TORO (in that sense), and it took me a long time to come up with CONGAS.

  4. Ed says:

    NYT, 93A/D crossing seems unfair.

  5. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Nice, solid puzzle, if a bit on the easy side. The only theme answer I take issue with is EMAIL SPAM. Doesn’t everyone just call it SPAM?

    It was nice to see the shout-out to “Birds AREN’T Real.” (That was a really fun puzzle!) I also liked clueing COEN to “The Hudsucker Proxy,” which is maybe not as well-known as some of their other movies.

    I could do without the earworm of “Hooked On a Feeling,” though. “Ooga” indeed.

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  7. JohnH says:

    Today I finally reported the overprinting of italics in pdfs created by Crossword Scraper, at least in TNY. (It arises with the Sunday cryptic just this morning.) I heard back within hours, even on a weekend. My report and the reply both ran on the extension’s page under “Issues” in GitHub.

    The reply described it as a “regression” in the rendering of pdfs owing to other recent changes. It said there was a ready solution that would appear in an upgrade, probably in only a few days, but that upgrades must go through the usual approval process.

  8. Dan says:

    LAT: Enjoyed the puzzle a lot, with its tricky clues.

    But for me the theme was neither here nor there. It played no role in my solve, and inspecting it afterward left me with a very ho-hum feeling: You mean you can add or subtract a letter or two to a familiar phrase and end up with another meaningful phrase? Whoopie-doo.

    • Eric H says:

      I skipped the title and thought the (A-) and (B+) stuff had to do a letter grades, which only became a problem when I got to a clue with a parenthetical O.

      As Jack’s review said, this is an old theme type. Matthew Stock has pulled it off reasonably well. I kind of like ABALONE AT LAST (where the theme helped me get the answer with only a few crosses) and OLD HITS DIE HARD. The base phrase for RACKET BUSTER was a little hard, since I don’t follow sports.

  9. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT … re “which made me feel a bit like a TARGET [___ audience] for this puzzle” … I only vaguely recall what it’s like to be the target audience of a crossword puzzle … or anything else, for that matter. Oh wait. There are the Medicare, rain gutter, reverse mortgage, “we’ll buy your house and rent it back to you” and “buy gold” scam ads that pervade FoxNews and throw-back TV stations like MeTV that air old westerns all afternoon long (i.e. what my mother watches). From this nearly 64-year-old’s perspective, it seems like something changed in CrossWorld right around the time COVID hit us. My solve times have steadily risen since then for every puzzle in my daily rotation after decreasing steadily over the 10 years before then when I started tracking them. I added the Universal, USA Today and New Yorker puzzles to my daily habit around that time hoping that it would help educate me about some of the more pop culture/trivia-oriented/modern slang bent of puzzles these days, but maybe it’s really true that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Or at least not this old dog.

    • Stephie says:

      As long as someone scratches your belly, it’s all good.

    • Eric H says:

      What’s your preferred solving format?

      I solve 99% of the puzzles I do on my iPad with the touchscreen keyboard. Every interface is a little different. I tend to make a lot of typos, and sometimes because of whatever interface I’m using, the cursor is not where I expect it to be as I’m typing.

      Which is to say that it might be less an issue of your brain slowing down than your hands just not working as quickly as they did 10 years ago.

    • e.a. says:

      any requests? (i.e. things that would make you feel like the target audience if you saw them in a puzzle?)

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Not really … I’m just a little sad that one of my long-time favorite hobbies and one that I had become pretty proficient at seems to be slipping away from me. I do sometimes find it off-putting when crossword constructors and editors sometimes seem to prioritize the latest slang and trivia over creative cluing, word play and more broadly known and established general knowledge (I recognize that this is easier said than done). I’d prefer that clue/answer combinations have some staying power before appearing in puzzles versus things that are only known to relatively narrow segment of solvers and only likely to be part of the zeitgeist for a few months or a year before disappearing into the ether. On the other hand, I’ve been working my way back through puzzles from the Maleska era and I sure wouldn’t want to see crosswording go back to the kind wacky abbreviations and other obscurities I’m finding there.

        • Eric H says:

          Isn’t part of the problem that none of us knows what bit of today’s pop culture will last? I’m sure there were people who in 1962 or whenever dismissed the Beatles as just another pop band that would soon be forgotten.

          I’m sure some of the ephemera that shows up in puzzles is just that, and a few years from now, no one will know what it is. To varying degrees, the editors of puzzles in mainstream publications seem to do a decent job of keeping out stuff that’s too esoteric.

    • Oh gosh, I’m 33 and love the Bonanza-Adam 12-Rockford Files channel!

  10. BavinBrielle says:

    WaPo. 93 Down … When I saw the clue I was instantly flooded with happy memories of watching Kukla, Fran and Ollie as a kid. Thanks, Evan!

  11. Seattle DB says:

    WaPo: Kudos to EB for mentioning Blue Swede and their “Ooga Chaka” song! Yay!

  12. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: I’m about through with doing their puzzles because the editing can be horrid at times. Like 94A: “Give voice to” is “Emit”, and 49D “Special find” is “Gem”, and 56D “Sun-kissed” is “Tan”. Nobody in my 68 years of life has ever equated those terms/words.

    • Eric H says:

      Your comment prompted me to look up “emit.” I too had questioned that clue when I solved the puzzle.

      The American Heritage Dictionary includes a definition that reads “to give out as sound; utter” and quotes Edith Wharton: “She emitted her small strange laugh.”

      But then Ms. Wharton died before you were born.

      As to the other clues, as they say, “they’re hints, not definitions.” They work well enough for me.

      • Seattle DB says:

        TY for “pacifying the angry beast inside me”. But at the time of my post, my frustration level was very high.

        • Eric H says:

          It happens to me, too. You try to spend a few minutes relaxing with a puzzle and end up feeling worse than when you started.

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