Sunday, September 24, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 15:42 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 12:42 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo untimed (Matthew) 


Joel Fagliano and Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword, “Rebrandings” — Nate’s write-up

09.24.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

09.24.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

Two New York Times crossword editors teaming up for a Sunday puzzle? Time to buckle up!

– 23A: LITTLE SEIZERS [We’ve rebranded! Now we sell tiny tongs!]
– 35A: BUD WISER [We’ve rebranded! Now we run an advice column on friendship!]
– 37A: WALL GREENS [We’ve rebranded! Now we sell ivy!]
– 49A: HOLE FOODS [We’ve rebranded! Now we sell doughnuts and bagels!]
– 52A: BEST BYE [We’ve rebranded! Now we help write breakup letters!]
– 68A: AMERICAN HEIRLINES [We’ve rebranded! Now we do genealogy for the U.S.’s rich and famous!]
– 84A / 86A: PROCTOR / AND GAMBLE [We’ve rebranded! Now, with 86-Across, we operate a test-taking facility/casino!]
– 98A: TALK O’ BELLE [We’ve rebranded! Now we produce a “Beauty and the Beast”-themed podcast!]
– 101A: WRITE AID [We’ve rebranded! Now we sell only pens and pencils!]
– 115A: EMBASSY SWEETS [We’ve rebranded! Now we sell candy to diplomats!]

Each of the themers is a homophone of a well-known company, now rebranded to sell what its homophonic name suggests. A lot of these were fun, and wow at the theme density! HOLE FOODS and WRITE AID felt most on-the-money for money, while TALK O’ BELLE felt a bit stretchy (but I appreciated them going for it!).

Other random thoughts:
7D AYE: Did anyone plunk OUI in for [All-vowel avowal] like I did at first?
9D UNZIPS: I clutched my pearls a bit at this clue!
79D SMALL: I wonder what non-Americans will think of this clue. Folks outside the US – what size would you expect a SMALL drink to be?

Gotta run for now. Hope you’re well! Let us know what you thought of the puzzle in the comments section below – and take care!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Novelty Songs” — Matt G’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Novelty Songs” 9/24/2023

For a first layer, circled letters bridge four pairs of theme clues:

  • 44a [John Lennon song described in Rolling Stone as “an enduring hymn of solace and promise”] IMAGINE
  • 46a [Spice Girls song that’s the first track on their debut album “Spice”] WANNABE
  • 69a [Roxette song with the lyric “I had to jump my car”] JOY RIDE
  • 70a [Harry Styles song whose title suggests that things aren’t like they used to be] AS IT WAS
  • 87a [Elton JOhn song with the lyrics “You’re all I’ve ever needed”] THE ONE
  • 88a [Maroon 5 song that sounds like a command to be patient] WAIT
  • 105a [Goo Goo Dolls song parodied on “Sesame Street” as “Pride”] SLIDE
  • 106a [Elvis Presley song with the lyric “I’ll answer yes”] ASK ME

Circled letters in the first and third pairs spell NEW, and in the second and fourth pairs spell IDEAS.

A revealer of sorts is found at 104A and 107D:

  • [With 107 Across, list that eight songs in this puzzle appeared on … and a hint to the numbered squares that spell out a quote from Blur frontman Damon Albarn] TOP FORTY

Sure enough, looking at squares 1 through 40 (you might say, the “top forty” of the puzzle), we can read the quote “Pop music is a great place to get new ideas across”

Fun concept – I don’t know that I’ve seen anything like it before. I like that the theme entries demonstrating “new ideas” don’t start until square 44, so that the first eight rows of the grid are reserved for the quote highlighted by the theme and revealer found further on.


LA Times crossword “Exchanging Words” by Tracy Gray — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Phrases have words replaced with the letter ‘X’ to showcase the many different meanings that ‘X’ has in our language.

LA Times crossword solution 9/24/23 — “Exchanging Words” by Tracy Gray

  • 21A. [Big name in health insurance associations] = BLUE X BLUE SHIELD (Blue Cross Blue Shield)
  • 35A. [Quaint emporium] = FIVE AND X CENT STORE (five and ten cent store)
  • 47A. [Preschool activity with crayons] = COLOR X NUMBER (color by number)
  • 67A. [Go it alone] = X OUT ON ONES OWN (I believe the phrase is “strike out on ones own” and ‘X’ is the symbol for a strike in bowling).
  • 87A. [Hopeful expression after two failures] = THIRD X A CHARM (third time’s a charm)
  • 96A. [Tony Award-winning musical based on a Manuel Puig novel] = X OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
  • 116A. [Irving Stone novel about Michelangelo] = THE AGONY AND THE X (The Agony and the Ecstasy)

This is a very natural theme. X is a rare and fun letter and it can mean so many different things (like cross, ten, by, strike, times, kiss, and ecstasy). That’s probably why I’ve seen multiple versions of this before. I’m sure some newer solvers were excited by the exchanges and that is worth a longtime solver like me occasionally seeing familiar themes. I’m not sure I’ve seen it with ecstasy included, so that’s interesting. Although I hadn’t heard of the Irving Stone novel. I also barely know “STRIKE OUT ON ONES OWN“.

The middle of the grid was much more difficult for me than either pole. 56D. [“Yours” alternative] = AS EVER was tough to see and it crossed 64A. [Electronic control mechanisms, briefly] = SERVOS, which I’ve never heard of. There was an even rougher cross right next door: 76A. COHO ([Silver salmon]) crossing 95A. ARIOSOS ([Melodic passages]). These two have never even grazed my wheelhouse, so it was a hack job to slot them into place. 7 long themers all containing an X is bound to put some strain on the grid.

I’m a fan of T-ZONE as unusual 5-letter fill — 52A. [Breakout area, to dermatologists] . Same with JACKIE O. BEEFARONI also put a smile on my face.

Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Strike That!”—Jim’s review

The grid features giant zig-zags of black squares. Pair those with the title, and they EVOKE lightning strikes. We also see groups of circled letters that are “struck” (i.e. separated) by these lightning strikes. It turns out each group of circled letters spells a word that can fill the blank in “strike a ___,” and a synonym for the phrase (well, or a related word at least) is found in the same row.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Strike That!” · Jeff Chen · 9.24.23

  • Strike a NERVE: GOLD MINER / RITÉ with RILE at 23a.
  • Strike a POSE: TEMPOS / ETHICAL with 42a VOGUE. New to me: VOGUE as a verb, “Dance to music in such a way as to imitate the characteristic poses struck by a model on a catwalk.”
  • Strike a BARGAIN: BABAR / GAINED with 51a SETTLE.
  • Strike a BLOW: R CRUMB / LOWLY with 70a ATTACK.
  • Strike a CHORD: LACONIC / HORDES with 81a EVOKE.
  • Strike a BALANCE: CYMBAL / ANCESTORS with 103a DEAL. Hmm. DEAL would seem to go better with BARGAIN. SETTLE could go either way.

Pretty nice. Jeff loves a visual element to his grids, and the black squares of a crossword lend themselves easily to lightning strikes. Part of me wants that middle one to be parallel with the upper and lower ones, but in reality, there’s nothing parallel about forked lightning. There isn’t quite enough theme material with the circled words alone, so the related words add an extra layer of hints to the theme. All in all it works quite nicely.

We have some large open sections in the grid and some great long fill therein, sometimes stacked together. I loved “ALL GONE!,” IDITAROD, LEVIATHANS stacked with EXECUTIVE, “OH, I FORGOT,” ENABLER stacked with TABLOID, GRAVITAS, an evil “MWAHAHA,” TROPICANA, HOT SHOTS, LACONIC, and CROATIANS stacked with BRANDON LEE. Lots of fun entries there that helped make the solve enjoyable from start to finish.

New to me was GO IPO [Have a Wall St. debut, in slang], but it wasn’t hard to infer. I don’t think I knew the name R CRUMB [Fritz the Cat illustrator], but I know his “Keep on Truckin'” picture. CO-EDIT feels roll-your-owny but grudgingly acceptable. HEAD CTS [Inside scans (Abbr.)] was difficult to parse.

Clues of note:

  • 26a. [___ of Insanity (“Princess Bride” locale)]. CLIFFS. Otherwise known as the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
  • 101a. [Darwin Award topics]. IDIOCIES. Nice to know they’re still going strong.
  • 1d. [Competitive eater’s victory cry]. “ALL GONE!” Interesting cluing angle. Seems somewhat unlikely.
  • 68d. [Condition for which Temple Grandin is a spokesperson]. AUTISM. I didn’t know the name, but she has a fascinating story. She didn’t speak until she was 3.5 years old yet she was recently named one of the top college professors in the country. Her list of achievements and awards is impressive.
  • 83d. [Commanders on the front line?]. ENDS. Needed all the crossings. I’m still getting used to the Washington Commanders team name.
  • 87d. [Arms for Force-ful people?]. SABERS. I think we’re talking light SABERS here (though I think the clue is trying a little too hard). Still, they’re elegant weapons “for a more civilized age.”

Very nice puzzle. Four stars.

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16 Responses to Sunday, September 24, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Several of these themers actually made me chuckle. For some reason, I rarely find the wacky Sundays amusing but this one really worked for me.
    And great job managing the theme density while keeping it smooth. Every time I thought I was going to get stuck, some little thing would give and open up that neighborhood for me.
    Cute that “Beats Me” was a clue in both the mini and the maxi, but with different responses.
    Well done!

  2. pannonica says:

    WaPo: I thought the grid also looked like a record or compact disc. I would have said 45rpm adapter, but that’s too anachronistic.

  3. David L says:

    In the version of the NYT puz that I printed out, the clue for 38D, RHO, was a dot or a period. Is that an error or am I missing something? I found this one tougher than usual – the cluing wasn’t on my wavelength, for some reason. And I had trouble coming up with TALKOBELLE, in part of the (for me) pronunciation difference between TALK and TACO.

    WaPo: I didn’t understand the ‘top forty’ hint so all I saw was NEWIDEASNEWIDEAS in the circled letters. Also, I didn’t know any of the songs referred to, because I am an old person. But the crossings were all fair, as always with Evan’s puzzles.

    • Eric H says:

      The PDF NYT puzzle often cannot reproduce what’s in the newspaper. The newspaper (and the online version) had a lowercase Greek RHO.

      If it works for you, print the Newspaper Version.

      TALKOBELLE doesn’t really work for me, either. When I say “talk,” it’s closer to “tawk” than “tock.”

      None of the theme answers particularly amused me.But I have seen much worse puns in NYT crossword puzzles, so I really can’t complain.

  4. David L says:

    LAT: In what context does X by itself stand in for ‘ecstasy’? That last one had me baffled.

    • Mr. [a little bit] Grumpy says:

      Drug slang. Not a fan, but it is what it is. Otherwise a nice puzzle, although I wish it had been pushed back a few weeks, since we had the same theme just 10 days ago. Maybe the publishing cycle lead time wouldn’t permit that,

  5. Jim says:

    NYT 101A: Given RiteAid’s apparent death spiral toward bankruptcy, a rebranding just might be forthcoming!

  6. JT says:

    NYT: The theme was cute once I filled in enough to start getting it, though I also had TALKOBELLE as my final clue. I would have enjoyed it more, but way too much junk fill for my tastes, especially as 23.5% of the answers were three-letter words (including pluralized 4 letter answers).

    When was the last time there were two puzzles in a week’s time referencing the Laotian language?

  7. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Nice puzzle, and nice write-up explaining how to get the pseudo-meta quote. I had to read the 104D clue a couple of times to understand it m though it’s perfectly clear.

    I feel out of touch with pop music, though. IMAGINE is the only one of those songs I know. At least I have heard of most of other artists (I’m not 100% sure I know who Roxette is or was).

    That’s a great quote for ENVY. I’m going to have to look up Señor Zafón; I don’t recognize that name. The ANAGRAM clue got me — I needed several letters to see that answer.

    When I saw the puzzle’s title, I was expecting the theme answers to be true novelty songs. I’m glad they weren’t, because the ones I know can become relentless earworms.

  8. Seattle DB says:

    Some of us “over 50” people will always be grateful to constructors like Evan B and Matt G and Matt J for making crosswords that keep us “oldies” included. As for me (age 69), I like puzzles that include a great mix of the old & the new, and a lot of education & entertainment. And being funny & punny is icing on the cake. Thank you for continuing my “adult education”.

  9. Seattle DB says:

    UNI-SUN: I don’t understand Jeff Chen’s answer for 103A: How does “Strike a BALANCE” mean to “Strike a DEAL”?
    And 89D: How is “PITCH” an apt rhyme for “DITCH”? Chen’s interpretation of vocabulary is dissimilar to mine.

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