Sunday, August 20, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 15:19 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 8:54 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 3:51 (Matthew) 


Michael Schlossberg’s New York Times crossword, “Crunch Time” — Nate’s write-up

08.20.23 Sunday New York TImes Crossword

08.20.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

3D: IN SPITE OF [Notwithstanding] – T inside shaded PIE
53D: ALICIA KEYS [Singer with the 2001 #1 hit “Fallin'”] – I inside shaded CAKE
6D: PULLED A FAST ONE [Tricked somebody] – D inside shaded LEAF
37D: CUP BEARER [Server at a royal table, one] – B inside shaded PEAR
13D: APPLIED SCIENCE [Civil engineering or molecular biology] – I inside shaded APPLE
56D: FAT CONTENT [What makes an avocado rich] – T inside shaded CONE
16D: PLUS MINUS [±] – S inside shaded PLUM

119A: VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR [Classic children’s book character eating its way through this puzzle, with “the”]

What a cute theme! Each of this puzzle’s downward themers is something that our VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR might munch into (edited to add: Thanks to Ethan for pointing out in the comments – these are the foods the caterpillar eats in the book – nice!), and the bite marks inside those foods spell out TIDBITS. “Crunch Time,” indeed!

This puzzle felt like a medium difficulty solve for me, hampered a bit by the left/right grid symmetry, which resulted in a lot of tasky three-letter entries and a central section that was a devil for me to ultimately conquer. Otherwise, this was a wonderfully crunchy and nicely challenging solve. Perhaps the toughest cross for me was COSIMO / MOS, with both entries being firmly outside my wheelhouse. TIL, though!

What did you think of the puzzle? Let us know in the comments below – and have a great weekend! If you were at the Lollapuzoola crossword puzzle tournament this weekend, let us know how it was! And keep us SoCal folks and those in Baja Mexico and the Nevada deserts in your thoughts – I thought earthquakes were bad enough, but now we’ve got hurricanes to deal with, too?!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “That’s an Order” — Matt G’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post Crossword solution, “That’s an Order,” 8/20/23

Hope folks who traveled are making their way home safe from Lollapuzzoola. I couldn’t make it this year, but expect to be at ACPT and fingers crossed for Lolla as well next year.

A meta this week from Evan, titled “That’s an Order.” We’re prompted to find “the phrase that I’d hope you’d say in response to the question ‘Will you solve this meta?'”

The nine theme entries are obvious (forgive me for not typing out the clues):

  • 21a ONE SLICE
  • 23a TWO TIMES
  • 50a FOUR EYES
  • 64a FIVE WAY
  • 81a SIX BALLS
  • 107a EIGHT BIT
  • 112a NINE HOLE

In metas I often get twisted up in knots, not knowing where to start or how to filter through potentional rabbitholes. The clear order in the theme entries both aligned with the title and focused me on the second word of each.

From there, the first thing I tried worked — the “SLICE” in ONE SLICE looks like it pairs nicely with CUT at 1-Across. It’s a common meta trick — finding partner clues and entries elsewhere in the grid and seeing where it takes us.

Here, each of the words from the themers could be the answer to another clue in the grid — note that this isn’t quite “is a synonym for another entry in the grid.” Running down the list:

  • SLICE – 1a [Divide with a knife] CUT
  • TIMES – 6d [Instances] OCCASIONS
  • STOOGES – 14d [Flunkies] UNDERLINGS
  • EYES – 53a [Gets a glimpse of] NOTICES
  • WAY – 66d [Path] TRAIL
  • BALLS – 79d [Spherical objects] ORBS
  • SISTERS – 85a [Convent members] NUNS
  • BIT – 118a [Small amount] IOTA
  • HOLE – 121a [Something dug in the ground] TRENCH

I won’t bury the lede: we take the first letter from each of these entries to find the meta answer, “Count on it!” Fits the prompt and ties back into the numerical element in the theme entries.

I actually backsolved this a bit after spotting CUT, TRAIL, and NUNS, so I had a slight pause on whether TRENCH was a good pair to HOLE, before I remembered that it’s the clues that can apply to either, not a straight synonym relationship. More importantly, I didn’t realize until writing this up now that the extraction entries (CUT, OCCASIONS, etc) are themselves in grid order, despite the order also being clear from the numbers in the theme entries. A lovely extra bit of finesse.


  • 34a [Grant’s portrayer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”] ASNER. “You got a lotta spunk.” “Why thank you, Mr. Grant.” “I HATE spunk.”
  • 36a [Paul who founded a pet food company] IAMS. This was new to me! Obviously I’ve never bothered to look up the origins of the company, or else I’d’ve known, but I never considered it might be someone’s name itself.
  • 77a [Fencer’s thrust] PASSADO. Another new one for me — it’s rare enough our crossword fencing terms go to five letters (‘lunge’), let alone longer!
  • 44d [Quetzaltenango’s nation] GUATEMALA. Quetzaltenango is west-northwest of the capital Guatemala City and is very near to the Santa Maria Volcano.
  • 51d [___ V, ruler of Norway from 1957 to 1991] OLAV. I welcome any tips for keeping OLAVs and OLAFs straight (and will be embarrassed if the answer is “if it’s a Nordic/Scandinavian king, it’s always -V”)
  • 95d [English soccer player Williamson] LEAH. By the time most of you get to this puzzle and recap, the England-Spain World Cup Final will be over, but I’ll toss in a “Go Spain!” all the same. To stay on topic, Williamson herself is not participating, missing the tournament with an injury.
  • 109d [Father of Ben Solo] HAN. I may eat my words, possibly immediately with tomorrow’s BEQ puzzle, but a lot like Game of Thrones, I think I know everything I need to know crossword wise from this franchise without really having to endure the films.
  • 115d [Last word] END. I’ll tip my hat a bit to Evan for not doing some sort of [… aptly placed within this puzzle]-type clue.

Have a great Sunday!

Universal, “Themeless Sunday” by Adrian Johnson — norah’s write-up; 6:20

THEME: None!

Favorite entries:

2023-08-20 Johnson

2023-08-20 Johnson

  • ⭐GOODBYEFORNOW 35A [“Take care, and I’ll see you again soon”]
  • STORYBOOKENDING 3D [Happy conclusion to many fairy tales]
  • ITRIEDTOTELLYOU 11D [“Next time, just listen!”]
  • BOXKITES 39A [Rectangular beach flyers]


This one was hard! I mean, compared to the usual anyway. But fun – I enjoy the medium level difficulty in stuff like TONE 4D [An angry parent may not like yours], ATONE 17A [Do makeup work?], PRIME 29A [Two, but not four], ROSEN 45A [Nevada senator Jacky], and so on.

I learned:

SAOPAULO 31A [Largest city in the Southern Hemisphere] I didn’t know this fact!

Thanks Adrian and the Universal team!

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Tempus Fugit”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar names and phrases in which appear the letters SAND (108d, [Material that’s trickling through 3-, 18-, 28-, 64-, and 65-Down]). Entries are placed in such away that the SAND flows down the grid, as in an HOURGLASS (14d, [Old timer … and what’s depicted in the middle of today’s grid]). A bonus revealer is at 75d: DOWNTIMES [Rest periods … and a punny alternate title for today’s puzzle].


  • 3d. [“Rushmore” director] WES ANDERSON.
  • 18d. [Tricks of the trade] INS AND OUTS.
  • 28d. [Dad’s footwear that evokes eye rolls] SOCKS AND SANDALS. Note the bonus SAND.
  • 64d. [Sch. in La Jolla whose mascot is King Triton] UC SAN DIEGO.
  • 65d. [Seemingly forever] AGES AND AGES.

Really nice theme! I especially like the double-SAND find in the middle (fun fact: the word “sandal” has nothing to do with SAND) and the flowing SAND from top left to bottom right. (Sure, there’s no horizontal aspect to SAND falling through an HOURGLASS, but hey, it’s a crossword. What are you gonna do?) I’m not terribly keen on the repetition of “AND” in three of the entries, but I can look past that if it means we get the elegantly designed grid we see here. And we get some cool grid art which breaks one of the longstanding crossword rules: We have an unchecked square in the center of the grid. All in all, a lovely design.

Truth be told, there are so many long entries in this grid, I didn’t spy the SAND theme until I got to the revealer. So I essentially solved it as a themeless, enjoying the long fill along the way: STAR-NOSED MOLE, NONSENSE VERSE, AIR TERMINAL, DONNIE DARKO, END OF AN ERA, TOWER HEIST, LINE DANCER, and DREAM TEAMS. Other goodies: GO SOUTH, HAS LEGS, and “GO ON IN.” Never heard of ANDAMAN [Bay of Bengal’s ___ Islands], but the crossings are fair.

Clues of note:

  • 27a. [Burrowing mammal with a distinctive snout]. STAR NOSED MOLE. Said snout is the critter’s primary sensory organ, though it relies on touch, not smell.
  • 28d. [Dad’s footwear that evokes eye rolls]. SOCKS AND SANDALS. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen more than dads wear that sort of get-up. Hey, if InStyle says it’s okay, who am I to argue?

Good puzzle. Four star-nosed moles.

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35 Responses to Sunday, August 20, 2023

  1. Ethan says:

    It’s not something it “might” eat — each of those is in fact one of the foods from the book, ending with the leaf after he forged himself on Saturday.

    Very cute theme and I missed the enclosed tidbits!

  2. Ethan says:

    Oops clicked too quick. Meant to rate it 4 not 3. Fun puzzle!

  3. huda says:

    NYT: One of my favorite Sundays. They often feel too long/labored to me. This one didn’t stretch the limits of my attention span, maybe because it felt like a themeless with a twist. Loved the clue for TOLERANCE.

  4. Eric H says:

    NYT: I was 10 when the book was published and have only read it once, so I didn’t get any warm, fuzzy feeling from the theme. The three-letter entries were a bit much, but I zoomed through it anyway.

    Like huda, I enjoyed seeing the Helen Keller quote. The clue for MIST was sort of clever, as I originally read “drops” as a verb. And if you’re going to put AGASP in your grid, I appreciate having it clued with the wonderful “gobsmacked.” And Today I Learned that SHERPA is a language as well as an ethnic group.

  5. Stephie says:

    Lollapuzzoola was bizarre. I should probably keep my thoughts to myself.

    • Me says:

      Sorry to hear it was strange. I did the online version the last couple of years, and I enjoyed it. I was bummed that they didn’t offer an online option this year.

      I was a little surprised that they time to the second with a live tournament. The ACPT does to the minute, which seems less potentially fraught when a large number of contestants have to turn their papers into a small number of people. There were only four seconds between the third and fourth place finisher before the finals, so the precision of the timings mattered.

    • Dallas says:

      Hmm… I paid for the download, but haven’t looked at any of it yet (the semester just begun here, so it might be a bit before I get to it!). I was looking forward to it…

  6. Iggystan says:

    WAPO: “I won’t bury the lede: we take the first letter from each of these entries to find the meta answer, “Count me in!” Fits the prompt and ties back into the numerical element in the theme entries.”

    Got a little ahead of yourself, the first letters spell “count on it.”

  7. Tony says:

    Enjoyed the NYT. I remember reading TVHC to both my sister (I’m 8 years older than her) and my daughter. I heard recently that the book is on the “cancellation list” because it’s been deemed “outdated” and “detrimental.” Never knew that learning the days of the week and how caterpillars become butterflies was a problem.

  8. David L says:

    NYT: Nice puzzle, but what is the significance of TIDBITS being spelled out? (I know nothing about the book).

    WaPo: I solved the meta! I was thinking the answer might be ‘No, but thanks for asking’ but the mechanism was straightforward enough that even I was able to find it — although I settled on the final T without noticing that TRENCH was the analogue to HOLE.

    • Eric H says:

      I had always thought of TIDBIT as a choice piece of information (particularly gossip), but it can also mean a morsel of food. (When I finished the puzzle, I spent a couple of minutes trying to make sense of the circled letters. I finally gave up and got TIDBIT from the Wordplay column.

      Congratulations on getting the WaPo meta! I’ll have to give that a try. I’m frustratingly stuck on Friday’s WSJ meta.

      • David L says:

        Thanks, Eric. I knew that meaning of tidbit but wondered whether there was a more specific connection to the story than ‘bits of food.’

        • Eric H says:

          As far as I can tell, TIDBIT doesn’t appear in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

        • placematfan says:

          I don’t understand why it’s not enough that tidbits are morsels of food, which is what is left over after the caterpillar takes a bite out of the seven items. I think it’s an elegance.

  9. Sophomoric Old Guy says:

    NYT – Cute theme but I bet it was totally lost on 99% of the solvers. I read the book to my kids some 30 years ago. Got 119 across very quickly, but I don’t remember any of the things it ate. If the solver hadn’t read the book or been read to, this theme is a fail. I’m attributing this one to the younger part of the editorial team.

    As essentially a themeless it was OK, but had what seemed like a good number of 3-letter answers.

    • Gary R says:

      I’ve never read the book nor had it read to me. I finished the puzzle without much difficulty, but the theme was, as you suggest, totally lost on me. To make matters worse, I solved in AcrossLite, which didn’t have the shaded squares (and no note warning that there were features missing) – so all I saw was the seven circled letters. I was guessing they spelled out the name of the caterpillar, so I didn’t even bother to go through them. And yes, 42 3-letter answers seems excessive.

      Not the best Sunday experience for me.

    • JohnH says:

      I don’t have kids, so the theme was lost on me, too, leaving me feeling at least a little left out. And no question that the admirable number of theme squares meant some so-so fill, like the awful AGASP and, to my mind, NOM. Still, gotta say that there was a lot less bad fill than I expected, and the theme is admirably worked out. I’ll call it a good puzzle, just no warm feelings for me.

      My first try at making sense of the circled letters, reading from top to bottom, came so close to TIDBITS that I wasted too much time looking for my nonexistent mistake. How strange that it’s so close to the reading from left to right, which in due course I got. Go figure.

  10. Mr. [very very very] Grumpy says:

    WaPo: “I can’t be bothered” to even think about the meta after that juvenile & insulting “four-eyes” entry. Geez. Thanks so much for the bad memories.

    • Eric H says:

      Sorry that entry triggered bad memories for you. I started wearing glasses in the sixth grade, so I got a little of that kind of stuff. Kids can be cruel.

      I wonder if Evan Birnholz tried to do something with “four-poster” (as in a bed)? “Four score” and seven . . . .? I’m sure there are other options that I can’t think of.

      At least the clue doesn’t pretend that people who use the term are just playfully teasing the person wearing glasses.

    • Martin says:

      I never understood why this chain went with this name. My wife used to get her glasses there.

      • Eric H says:

        Maybe they thought they could reclaim the slur?

        My husband and I refer to this kind of thing in relation to the Tuffnell/St. Hubbins Line, in reference to “This Is Spın̈al Tap”: Two of the band members discuss the “thin line between clever and stupid.”

        I’d put this chain’s name on the far side of the line.

    • *I* wear glasses and got teased about it mercilessly when I was a kid. I also recognize that it’s a dumb insult that kids throw around because kids sometimes do dumb things like that. I have no problem using it for this meta.

  11. PJ says:

    I loved the LAT! Nicely executed theme. I seem to recall an hourglass grid in the past but that didn’t bug me in the least. The layout struck me at first as being comprised of a series of mini-puzzles. But when I solved it, the sections seemed very well connected. Really good long entries and not one a clunker. It was fun learning about the star nosed mole. What an interesting looking creature! All of the hits I found for it had it as star-nosed but I can live with that. This isn’t the Spelling Bee.

    Starting at 2d we have OKAPI-HOOHA-BODE-BLEU. I don’t know why I enjoy saying that, but I do

    • Eric H says:

      Hmm. The LAT puzzle I solved has the title “I’m Out” and no star-nosed moles. (They are memorable looking, though.)

      My solving experience was smooth. Pretty straightforward clueing, but it was fun to see WHAT AM I? CHOPPED LIVER? in the grid.

      I hit INSIDE MAN before PANIC ROOM and thought it was odd to clue INSIDE MAN as a Jody Foster movie. She’s wonderful in it and you want to hiss every time her character shows up, but it’s a Denzel Washington/Clive Owen movie.

      And now I really want a chimichanga.

      • PJ says:

        That’s because the puzzle I solved was the Sunday UC. DOH!

        • Eric H says:


          Sometimes I have trouble remembering which puzzle is which.

        • Eric H says:

          But you’re right, PJ, the Universal Sunday puzzle does have a nice theme. I especially liked how the SAND moves down as you go from left to right in the grid.

          There seemed to be a number of names that I didn’t recognize: ANDAMAN Islands, EDWINA (as clued), Richard Henry DANA, Jr..

  12. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Solving the grid was quick. Once I had a few of the theme answers, I tried to get the others with as few crosses as possible.

    Matt, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to the OLAF/OLAv problem. I just let the crosses take care of that last letter.

    To solve the meta, I first tried to make sense of the first letters of the second part of each theme answer (e.g. the S of SLICE), but that got me some vowelless garbage. Then I noticed the STOOGES/UNDERLINGS overlap and WAY/TRAIL. (Shoutout to Conrad and the other Fiends who review metas; it’s only from reading this blog that I know about mapping one answer onto another.) My only real slowdown was whether ORBS went with EYES or BALLS.

    It’s always more fun when I get the meta answer. I’m about ready to give up on the Friday WSJ meta.

  13. Brenda Rose says:

    I’m so sick of people who frown at the word obese & then laugh at “dad bods” or “mom jeans.” I see people of all ages shopping in Whole Foods wearing woolen socks with birkenstocks. And bravo to those who embrace the freedom of a pair of jeans that fits comfortably. Gotta remember – if these moms & dads weren’t alive you wouldn’t be either. Ageism is real.

    • Seattle DB says:

      I truly like your comment and I encourage my children to “let their freak flag fly”. Differences are what make people so interesting!

  14. Seattle DB says:

    USAT: I quit doing this puzzle once they started charging for a membership, but I did today’s puzzle and don’t understand their editing. 34A is clued as “Native matriarch” and the answer is “Auntie”. WTH? (It’ll probably be a few months before I do another one of their puzzles just to see if they’ve improved somewhat…)

    • Eric H says:

      I Googled “auntie definition,” and one of the hits suggested that “Auntie” is used by some Black families to refer to a matriarch. I’m not sure where the “native” comes in.

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