Sunday, September 17, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 12:42 (Nate) 


USA Today 2:43 Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:34 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 6:45 (Matthew) 


Jill Rafaloff and Michelle Sontarp’s New York Times crossword, “Classical Music” — Nate’s write-up

Don’t myth out on your chance to tackle this cute and classic-al New York Times Sunday puzzle!

09.17.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

09.17.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 24A: GIVE PEACE A CHANCE [Supplication to Ares (Plastic Ono Band)]
– 34A: HERE COMES THE SUN [Warning to Icarus (The Beatles)]
– 52A: LIGHT MY FIRE [Request to Prometheus (The Doors)]
– 66A: OH PRETTY WOMAN [Comment to Aphrodite (Roy Orbison)]
– 84A: YOU’RE SO VAIN [Criticism of Narcissus (Carly Simon)]
– 95A: DON’T BRING ME DOWN [Entreaty to Hades (Electric Light Orchestra)]
– 114A: MORNING HAS BROKEN [Congratulations to Eos (Cat Stevens)]

This theme was more straightforward than many recent Sunday puzzles, but I appreciate the variety. Not every puzzle needs to have multi-layered wordplay – sometimes, solid puns and cultural reimaginings go a long way. YOU’RE SO VAIN felt spot on, and I’ll admit to morbidly chuckling at the cluing context for HERE COMES THE SUN. The songs all predate me (or at least predate my cultural memory), but felt fair all the same. (Plus, not everything needs to be made with me or my generation as the target audience.) I hope you all found it enjoyable, too!

Random thoughts:
– This grid felt super clean, which is reflected in my faster-than-average solve time. ODER was maybe the only bit of glue?
– I wanted STAGGER / TOOL to be SWAGGER / WOOL!
– Of all the states that could’ve been used to clue ESTADO, I LOLed at my birth state New Hampshire being the one chosen.  If they needed to clue a language change, I’d have picked Nueva Mexico / Jersey / York, all of whom have substantially higher Spanish-speaking populations.
– I was surprised that RUH ROH at 1D wasn’t clued with respect to Scooby Doo (or with respect to ESTADO‘s clue!).

Okay, that’s all for now. Let us know what you enjoyed about this puzzle – and have a great weekend! Shana Tova to all who celebrate!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Off the Table” — Matt G’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Off the Table,” 9/17/2023

A meta from Evan this week. We’re given a title “Off the Table” and prompt “The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is a two-word phrase.”

Themers are easy to spot; they’re marked with asterisks, and are zany, not-in-the-language phrases:

  • 22a [*Kayaking locales that will give you a good core workout?] AB RIVERS
  • 24a [*Farm enclosure for storing a pool triangle?] RACK PEN
  • 29a [*”Have you acquired any assets at all?”?] EVER GAIN
  • 32a [*”Mein Gott! A ‘burnt’ color!”?] ACH UMBER
  • 49a [*Fellows who enjoy composer Maurice’s music?] RAVEL GENTS
  • 67a [*Every person named like NFL receiver Moss, “American Idol” judge Jackson, composer Newman, etc.?] EACH RANDY
  • 89a [*Christmas toymaker walked onstage?] ELF ENTERED
  • 104a [*What you use to listen to a whirlpool?] EDDY EARS
  • 110a [*What Elvis might have called his swiveling body parts if he acted in the 2012 Best Picture winner?] ARGO HIPS
  • 115a [*Expert at setting and keeping the tempo?] PACE ACE

Plus a revealer: 118a [Like a certain table] PERIODIC

I had a good amount of difficulty working through this grid, but ELF ENTERED midway through the solve stood out. Bringing to mind the phrase “Self Centered,” it points to each theme entry being a two-word phrase with each word missing its initial letter:

AB RIVERS > “Cab Drivers”
RACK PEN > “Crack Open”
EVER GAIN > “Never Again”
ACH UNDER > “Mach Number”
RAVEL GENTS > “Travel Agents”
EACH RANDY > “Peach Brandy”
ELF ENTERED > “Self Centered”
EDDY EARS > “Teddy Bears”
ARGO HIPS > “Cargo Ships”
PACE ACE > “Space Race”

“Mach Number” rang a little less common for me, but I literally couldn’t find anything else that fit the pattern, even before the next step, so was happy to move past that weaker click.

The clue for 118 has the periodic table at the front of our minds. Each pair of missing/added letters to the theme phrases corresponds with an element’s chemical symbol. Each element’s atomic number is probably a good data point to capture. And to save space, we’ll also check out which letters in the grid are in the squares with those numbers:

CD > Cadmium > 48 > S
CO > Colbalt > 27 > C
NA > Sodium > 11 > R
MN > Manganese> 25 > A
TA > Tantalum > 73 > P
PB > Lead > 82 > M
SC > Scandium > 21 > E
TB > Turbium > 65 > T
CS > Caesium > 55 > A
SR > Strontium> 38 > L

Our meta answer is SCRAP METAL, an apt phrase for a mechanism in which the chemical symbols of metallic elements (did you notice that it was only metals earlier? I didn’t until compiling the write up) are scrapped from common phrases to create crossword entries.

This meta has more steps than I’m usually able to solve solo, but each step was pretty clear from the last, helped by an overt nudge from the revealer. I’m always so impressed by puzzles that rely on certain letters being in certain squares, as it ramps up the constraints on grid design and fill.


  • 27a [“___ Rave” (song by Noisestorm with a music video featuring dancing crustaceans)] CRAB. I have watched the video. It’s as Evan describes.
  • 36a [Milne’s gloomy ass] EEYORE. This made me laugh. I’m a fan of this particular use of “ass;” as a substitute for “person” in an insulting (or self-deprecating) phrase. To merge that with the … let’s say Biblical, usage of “ass” makes for a fun little clue.
  • 37a [2023 World Cup star Carmona] OLGA. Carmona scored the winning goals in both the semi-final and final matches of this year’s World Cup, which have been shamefully overshadowed by continued sexist behavior from Spanish soccer officials – Carmona and over 80 Spanish players have vowed to boycott the national team until Spanish soccer, well there’s no other phrase than “figures its shit out.”
  • 39a [“Game of Thrones” city with a Great Pyramid] MEEREEN. Alas, just when I think I’ve learned everything I need to know about this bloated whatever of a franchise to solve puzzles. Solved this entirely from crossings.
  • 76a [Instrument that may be read on a calculator by typing 3080 and turning it upside down] OBOE. Let’s just say my grade-school calculator silliness never spelled out OBOE.
  • 114a [Madeline of “Clue”] KAHN. “Flames. Flames on the side of my face.”
  • 8d [Covered in concrete rectangles, say] SLABBED. I found this (and a few others, like CIDERY and BYPATH) a bit forced, but considering the demands of the theme and the meta, I really can’t get that worked up about it.
  • 59d [Sprinter Burrell] LEROY. Burrell is a new name to me, but he shouldn’t have been – he twice held the world record for the 100-meter dash in the early 90s.

Adam Simpson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Short Films”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are well-known movie titles arranged vertically at the bottom of the grid with their final letters missing. Those missing letters spell out DELETED SCENES (46a, [What the snipped ends of six movies cumulatively form]). Another revealer at the top of the grid provides an added hint: ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR (23a, [Omitted from a movie … or where pieces of 46-Across were left in this puzzle]). Oh and there’s an EDITOR at 98d [Reel arranger (who took scissors to the bottom of this puzzle)].

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Short Films” · Adam Simpson · 9.17.23

  • 61d. [Comedy in which Elle Woods teaches the “bend and snap”] LEGALLY BLON(de).
  • 76d. [Animated film featuring a rodent with dreams of becoming a chef] RATATOUIL(le).
  • 56d. [Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie 1999 drama] GIRL INTERRUP(ted).
  • 57d. [“If you build it, he will come” flick] FIELD OF DREAM(s).
  • 80d. [Titular movie character played by Michael Keaton] BEETLEJUI(ce).
  • 66d. [Saoirse Ronan thriller of 2009] THE LOVELY BO(nes).

Great theme! This is serendipity at work with the phrase ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR being an exact grid spanner and with big-name movies fulfilling the theme and yet fitting symmetrically in the grid. Kudos to Adam for conceiving the theme and finding the perfect entries to make everything fit. Very nicely done!

Top fill includes the theme-adjacent MINOR ROLE as well as DESERT OASIS (stacked on a the revealer, no less), BOATHOUSE, IN CAHOOTS, and ELSEWHERE. Other goodies include PICANTE, AFGHANS, and SAC FLY. There is a huge number of 3-letter words (46; a constructor’s target is usually around 20). But the solve didn’t feel too choppy or disjointed to me.

Clues of note:

  • 89a. [Gas-infused cold brew]. NITRO. Huh. I never knew this. I just assumed it was some sort of branding attempt to make coffee sound more dangerous. But apparently nitrogen-infused coffee is smoother and less bitter than the regular stuff.
  • 24d. [Add body to one’s hair]. TEASE. I read this as “Add hair to one’s body.” Anyone else?
  • 31d. [Toyger’s doc]. VET. I assumed a toyger was a mixed breed of dog. But it’s a breed of domestic cat that resembles a tiger, making it a “toy tiger.”

Really nice puzzle. 4.25 stars.

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “Start of Something New” — Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer begins with a word that can follow “new.”

Theme Answers

Matthew Stock's USA Today crossword, “Start of Something New" solution for 9/17/2023

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “Start of Something New” solution for 9/17/2023

  • 17a [2023, in the Chinese calendar] YEAR OF THE RABBIT / NEW YEAR
  • 28a [Rodents sometimes kept as a pet] GUINEA PIG / NEW GUINEA
  • 42a [Some specimens from the lunar surface] MOON ROCKS / NEW MOON
  • 54a [Ham it up for the Jumbotron] WAVE TO THE CAMERA / NEW WAVE

With four themers–two of which span the grid–this was a really fun theme. It’s also a nice follow up to the “Breaking Free” puzzle of September 3rd. Plus, as a bonus, we had 24a [“High School Musical” studio] DISNEY. YEAR OF THE RABBIT was really easy to fill in with the double Bs from CABANA and ORB. I loved seeing MOON ROCKS because, well, the moon rocks. I initially had POSE FOR instead of WAVE TO THE CAMERA, but WON, ADO, and VON cleared up everything that I needed.

This grid is also symmetric, which is impressive considering its four themers. The corners feel really open, and I moved through in near-record time. I really enjoyed 36d [Uto-Aztecan language] SHOSHONE, 20a [Class that might teach someone how to say “Hello, how are you?”] ESL, and 21a [The Fates, in “Hercules,” e.g.] TRIO. Overall, though, it was a really fun Sunday.

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43 Responses to Sunday, September 17, 2023

  1. JohnH says:

    Could I have help with NYT 3D Worker who throws things (POTTER)? Thanks. I had trouble with that section also with spelling Astro’s call, but not serious objections. I’m guessing PUSH for nail work refers to press-on nails, but I don’t know that either.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: One of my favorite Sundays. All songs I know and love, and I appreciated the layering of Greek myth into it. Felt like a Sunday theme should be—nothing tortured about it. And it makes me want to listen again to all these classics. Well done!

    • Andrew says:

      I agree, a wonderful Sunday puzzle. As someone born in the mid 80’s, these songs are all older than I am, but I enjoyed the whole set. Great music all around, and they provided less resistance than titles from more recent decades would have.

      • Sophomoric Old Guy says:

        NYT: very well executed theme. Knew all the songs right away and made for much faster than normal solving.

        The fill was old school, much like theme. Guessing there will be people complaining about that.

        Congrats to the debut for Jill Rafaloff and Michelle Sontarp. As I said earlier in the week, I always appreciate people who get their first puzzle in the NYT without collaborating with one of the well known constructors.

    • Dallas says:

      Pretty fun and very fast; I enjoy a little more wordplay in my Sundays, but the smooth fill was very nice. Only the SW slowed my down, and I somehow forgot OONA (threw in IONA which I should know better by now with the number of crosswords I’ve done :-) ); jumped over to the phone to catch my mistake… Fun Sunday. Might take a crack at Evan’s Sunday Wash Post puzzle today too :-)

  3. Alison says:

    Great puzzle! I think my Sunday best finish time. It certainly helped that the music was from my era. Ah the memories.

  4. pannonica says:

    NYT: “I was surprised that RUH ROH at 1D wasn’t clued … with respect to ESTADO‘s clue!”

    Am not getting the connection.

    • Alex says:

      Maybe the rhyming last syllable, but I didn’t see an obvious connection there either.

    • Bryan says:

      I have the same question. I am confused by that comment in Nate’s review.

    • Nate Cardin says:

      I was trying to say that getting to ESTADO via Nueva Hampshire instead of other states with substantially larger Spanish-speaking populations and representation felt (to me) like a cluing misstep, hence the RUH ROH.

  5. placematfan says:

    NYT: Not to take anything away from the constructors’ piece–which is pretty solid–but, man, this skeleton grid would be oh-so-fun to play with in that phase of construction that’s almost as exciting as the early courtship with the theme idea: placing your themers in an attempt to get the grooviest Longdowns you can. You’ve got 7 themers. The 13 is by necessity centered. Very wise to go ahead and put your longest at the top and the bottom. Then that leaves you with two 15s and two 11s–that are interchangeable! (with the theme demanding no specific order)–to place in that beautiful, crystal-white sea above and below–and to the right and left of!–your center entry. Just look at it. So. Much. Space. Mmm, my mouth is watering.

  6. Ethan says:

    Loved the Sunday NYT but way too easy. A little more bite would have been nice

  7. Mutman says:

    NYT: I thought this was a very fun (and somewhat easy) Sunday puzzle! My only trouble spot was that ALBUMEN/LOMA cross.

    As others mentioned, the songs were all old, but right up my alley. Do solvers, say, under 30 know these?? If the fill were Shakira, Cardi B songs, etc, I’d be up the creek.

    Again, very fun puzzle.

  8. pannonica says:

    Universal: regarding the toyger breed, it is difficult to engineer a striped cat with both black and orange coloration. It’s a genetics thing. “In cats with orange fur, phaeomelanin (red pigment) completely replaces eumelanin (black or brown pigment). This gene is located on the X chromosome. The orange allele is O, and is codominant with non-orange, o. Males can typically only be orange or non-orange due to only having one X chromosome.” (Wikipedia)

    • marciem says:

      aha… and that explains why calico cats are (almost) always female, too. (there are apparently rare exceptions).

      Thanks, pannonica…. we can always count on you for some extra information!

  9. Cyberdiva says:

    NYT: I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to pop music after the 1950s. I had heard of only 3 of the songs, and in no case was I able to connect the song with a singer or group. However, I knew just enough about Greek mythology to be able to come up with the likely song titles (with a little help from the crossings). So I too loved the puzzle and hope to see more from Jill and Michelle.

  10. JohnH says:

    I’m going to dissent on the NYT. I know everyone loved it, but I didn’t really. For one thing, I just didn’t find the theme fill funny. I know humor is a matter of taste, but at least half the clues weren’t punny enough for me, more like straightforward renditions of the song title.

    But also, I worried that it was an old-fogey puzzle, with all mega-hits from so long ago (so I should be happy that it doesn’t seem to have come across that way, but still I’ve seen criticism along those lines in Crossword Fiend reviews of past puzzles). Conversely, if it had been more contemporary, I’d have been annoyed at not recognizing the theme fill and struggling with it. Together, that suggested that maybe the theme itself wasn’t working.

    Sorry, don’t mean to spoil anyone else’s fun. Just sayin’.

    • Mr. [laughing and not] Grumpy says:

      I don’t think the fill was meant to be funny. I thought the clues were witty and well done. I laughed out loud at 84A and only wish that the constructors had been a bit more daring with 66A. “Come-on to Aphrodite” ?

    • John says:

      None of the themers were puns at all, but so what?

    • JohnH says:

      I should have said that what I didn’t find were witty rather than punning clues, but never mind. I do understand that others were duly amused or impressed.

    • Kell says:

      Completely with you. One of my least favorite crosswords in a while because there was absolutely no wit/joy in the non-reimaginings of the song titles. Here Comes the Sun is the only one that holds any water.

    • John+F.+Ervin says:

      You “worried that it was an old-fogey puzzle”,”so long ago”? Could you define old fogey? Are we not suppose to know history? Are you yourself an old fogey to a teenager? FYI, 50,60,70,or even 80 years is not that “long ago” in my life!

  11. e.a. says:

    incredible meta from Evan today! and loved the 79a clue

    • Thanks, friend! I’ve been waiting to use that clue for a few years.

      • Dallas says:

        Finally got around to doing Evan’s Sunday today and … great puzzle and great meta! I should’ve done it on Sunday :-) As a material scientist, that meta was well in my wheelhouse so I can’t comment on how difficult it might have been for other people, but it just worked out very quickly for me (I did also crosscheck the theme clue numbers against their elements just as a backup but didn’t need it :-)

        Thanks for a fun Sunday puzzle.

    • Eric H says:

      It was a fantastic meta that I got 75% of. I got the chemical symbols and figured out what to do with the numbers, and initially got nine letters. (Somehow, I overlooked 24A as a theme answer).

      But somehow, I read manganese’s number as 26, not 25, which gave me a P instead of an A. Between the one missing letter and the one wrong letter, I couldn’t make sense out of REPLSATPM.

      And I always have trouble figuring the order in which to read the letters in the grid, so even if I’d had the correct letters, I’d have probably ended up trying to unscramble them. Which might’ve worked or not.

      But my biggest obstacle to getting the meta on my own was that the last few Fiend reviews of WaPo meta puzzles have seemed to ignore the meta aspect.* It was just my lousy luck that when I was struggling to solve the meta, I came here and SCRAP METAL jumped off the page at me. Game over.

      It’s still impressive work, as always. Thanks, Evan!

      *I don’t want to sound critical of the Fiend reviewers. I know you all volunteer your time and energy, and I truly appreciate your reviews. But it seems a bit disrespectful to review a meta puzzle without acknowledging that it is a meta puzzle and explaining how the meta works. I was glad to see the meta covered in today’s review.

      • Matt Gritzmacher says:

        I’m troubled by the word “disrespectful.” Could you point out an example?

        Sometimes I miss the full elegance or final wrinkle of a theme, and helpful commenters point it out, as happened on 7/30. But puzzles like 7/23, 7/30, 8/6, and 8/27 aren’t really “metas.” Whenever the puzzle is accompanied by a note along the lines of “The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is…”, it’s noted in the first few sentences of the recap, which then charts the path to the meta solution in the review.

        • Eric H says:

          I’ve looked at several WaPo puzzle write-ups from the last few months and can’t find any of the ones that I remember as failing to acknowledge the existence of the meta. Or maybe what I’m remembering are the write-ups of puzzles that don’t meet your definition of a meta.

          I’m assuming that you, Matt Gritzmacher, are not the “Matthew” who reviewed the WaPo Sunday puzzles earlier this summer. Looking through your recent reviews, I see that you’ve fairly thoroughly discussed the metas. Maybe the reviews I was remembering were under Matthew’s byline.

          I brought this up mostly because I’ve only been solving meta puzzles for a few years. Sometimes, I can get several in a row, and then I’ll go weeks without getting one. I look forward to reading about how a meta works, especially when I didn’t get it, in the hopes that I’ll learn something I can use in the future.

          As long as I have your attention: I still don’t understand exactly how the letters in Sunday’s puzzle spell out SCRAP METAL. The S is in square 48, along the right hand side. Why would I start spelling a word there? To me, the logical place to begin is square 11, which is R.

          Thanks for your time.

          • First, that is the same Matthew (Gritzmacher) who’s been reviewing my puzzles since last year, when Jim Quinlan who’d been blogging my puzzles previously decided to step down from blogging at Fiend. I’m not sure which reviews you’re referring to but I think Matthew has made it clear it was a meta each time whenever he was reviewing one of mine. And even if he didn’t, I always put in a notepad in the puzzle to tell you directly that it is a meta.

            Second, if you find important meta letters in the grid, there are usually two main ways that you’ll be asked to order them: 1) grid order (as you tried), or 2) thematic order (which is what you need to do for this one). That means you have to match up the key letters with the theme answers in theme answer order.

            1st theme answer:
            AB RIVERS > Cab Drivers > CD > Cadmium > 48 > S

            2nd theme answer:
            RACK PEN > Crack Open > CO > Cobalt > 27 > C

            3rd theme answer:
            EVER GAIN > Never Again > NA > Sodium > 11 > R

            And so on.

            Whenever you attempt a meta, I’d recommend using a Notepad file or spreadsheet to list out the theme answers in order, then list out any pertinent information about each of those answers on the same lines. So list the clue, the clue number, any answers or important letters associated with a theme answer, etc., on the same line as that theme answer.

            In some cases, like in my Aug. 20 puzzle “That’s an Order,” you can order the letters in both ways (grid order and thematic order) and you’ll arrive at the same correct meta answer. In very, very few cases will you ever be forced to randomly anagram the key letters to come up with a potential answer. Meta puzzlers like to call that “randomgramming” and it’s generally frowned upon.

            • Eric H says:

              Thanks, Evan.

              I remembered too late the idea of ordering the letters in theme answer order. I always forget about that. And I know “randomgramming” is inelegant, but it’s sometimes gotten me the answer even when there’s a better way to reach it.

              My apologies, Matt, for saying that you were not addressing the metas in Evan’s puzzles. I wish I could remember the review I thought skipped over that, but it was probably one of the quasi-metas.

              I should know better than to comment when I’m frustrated. I wasn’t at all frustrated with Evan’s clever puzzle. It was just that I had gotten so close only to fuck it up at the end.

            • David L says:

              I’d recommend using a Notepad file or spreadsheet

              Or you could use a scrap of paper, like I do!

              I got this meta fairly easily, after being briefly distracted by Bromine in ABRIVERS and Iron in ELFENTERED.

            • Eric H says:

              David L:

              I actually did write down the “missing letters” on a scrap of paper, but the chemical symbols weren’t apparent.

              It was when I went back and recreated the list on my iPad’s Notes app that I saw what the letters represented. (High school chemistry class was a long time ago, and I needed help figuring out which elements some of them represent.)

  12. Dan says:

    LAT: Somehow I expected to find DEIONIZATION somewhere in the grid, but no such luck.

  13. Mutman says:

    For those of you who actually get the dead tree version of the NYT, I thought “Viral Trigrams” was a great puzzle (the variety puzzle this week)

    It’s not on the app :(

  14. Art Shapiro says:

    NYT: As someone who listens almost exclusively to “classical” music, we were not amused. I’d heard of some of these songs, but at least the crossings made the puzzle solvable, albeit not enjoyable.

    • R says:

      Rest assured that everyone is very, very impressed that you don’t know some 50-year-old pop songs. Thank you for telling us how cultured and superior you are and reminding us that our knowledge of popular music is shameful and base.

  15. Lois says:

    Have to defend Art, though I liked the puzzle a lot. He’s just expressing his feelings as a solver. He loves classical music, and so was excited to begin and disappointed that the title of the puzzle played on two other meanings of “classical,” classical mythology and classic pop. His remarks don’t mean more than that. I’ve never seen The Jetsons or heard of the pizza chain, but I enjoyed the puzzle very much. However, the songs were dear to me and that was the main thing for me.

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