Sunday, October 29, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 13:03 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:45 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo Untimed (Matthew) 


Alina Abidi’s New York Times crossword, “Fabric-ations” — Nate’s write-up

10.29.2023 Sunday New York TImes Crossword

10.29.2023 Sunday New York TImes Crossword

– 23A GINGERBREAD [Holiday building material (GABARDINE)
– 25A BINGE READ [Stay up all night finishing a book, maybe (GABARDINE)

– 38A SENATE SEAT [Washington post (SATEEN)]
– 40A ASSENT [Thumbs-up (SATEEN)]

– 79A OPENER [Precursor to the main act (NEOPRENE)]
– 81A ERROR-PRONE [Liable to make mistakes (NEOPRENE)]

– 101A ARMS REACH [Grabbing distance (CASHMERE)]
– 103A CREAM CHEESE [Philadelphia specialty (CASHMERE)]

– 61A CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH [Having similar qualities … or what four pairs of answers in this puzzle are?]

In this puzzle, each pair of theme answers is spelled (cut) from only the letters of the parenthetical fabric (cloth). The revealer is cute and I really like the idea, but each fabric not being a strict letter bank (only one of each letter) for the longer phrases took away from the theme for me just a bit. Also, a few of the themers were so short that I wish the puzzle weren’t constrained to each pair of themers being in the same row so that we could get longer, more surprising entries spelled with the limited letter sets. That said, this was a relatively smooth solve that felt fun and engaging, so I can’t complain too much.

In contrast to this week’s Sunday puzzle, this puzzle felt modern and current. Even how entries like BABES, BOT, ATE, BATS, WAS, EDIBLE, and ANTIHERO were clued made the puzzle feel of this moment, which I very much appreciated. I also really enjoyed seeing entries like BOPIT, JDATE, TPAIN, LUMPIA, and more. I can’t wait to see the next puzzle from this constructor!

What did you think of the puzzle? Any tricky bits? Let us know in the comments section below – and have a great weekend. If you’re headed out for Halloween, be safe!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Ghostwriters”

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post Crossword solution, “Ghostwriters,” 10/28/2018

This week’s WaPo crossword is a rerun from 2018 – find Jim Q’s original review here. Next weekend’s puzzle, as well as the remainder of the year, will be new puzzles from guest constructors.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Traffic Jam”—Jim’s review

Vehicles are added to familiar phrases creating crossword wackiness.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Traffic Jam” · Paul Coulter · 10.29.23

  • 22a. [Experts discussing “Madame Bovary”?] FLAUBERT PANEL. Flat panel. Hmm. An Uber isn’t a vehicle like the others.
  • 27a. [Spreadsheet virtuoso?] EXCEL SAVANT. Excels at. Meh. The base phrase is less than interesting.
  • 34a. [Desperate pirate fight?] BRIGAND STAND. Bandstand.
  • 69a. [Backup device for formal occasions?] SECOND BUSTIER. Second tier.
  • 102a. [Secret ring of ballot casters?] ELECTOR CABAL. Electoral. This one is all too real, unfortunately.
  • 108a. [Info about payments to the ex?] ALIMONY NEWS. “Any news?”
  • 119a. [Soother for crustacean-based stomachaches?] LOBSTER BICARB. Lobster bib.

Not bad. I picked some nits above, but it’s not a bad theme. I would’ve liked an additional layer to the theme, like a revealer or some sort of wordplay providing a basis for the theme in addition to the title.

Highlights in the fill: IT’S A BIRD, UPSET ALERT, CAT CONDO, BETA TEST, EYEBALL, BABY GAP, “SURE CAN!,” SARDINIA, EXUBERANT. I don’t think I’m familiar with the Louis XV phrase, “APRÈS MOI, la déluge.” Read its meaning here.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Vile Nile snake]. ASP. “Vile?” Why so judgmental? It’s just trying to live its best life.
  • 25a. [___ Pitcher (Revolutionary War nickname)]. MOLLY. New to me. Apparently this was the nickname for any woman who fought in the war.
  • 65d. [Middle name for “The King”]. ARON. Apparently this spelling and “Aaron” are both acceptable when referring to Elvis’s middle name.
  • 84d. [“Born Free” feline]. ELSA. Ah, it’s the pre-Frozen clue for this name.

Solid puzzle. 3.5 stars.

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “Bop to the Top” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme: BOP appears in each of the themers, moving closer to the top of the puzzle.

Theme Answers

Matthew Stock's USA Today crossword, “Bop to the Top” solution for 10/29/2023

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “Bop to the Top” solution for 10/29/2023

  • 24a [2021 sci-fi series based on an anime space Western] COWBOY BEBOP
  • 26a [Oversized writing utensil] JUMBO PENCIL
  • 20a [Employment opportunities] JOB OPENINGS
  • 10a [“Toy Story” character with pet sheep] BO PEEP

I love this theme. I love that it has four theme answers, and it’s really nifty how BOP continues to ascend as you move from left to right through the puzzle. They were also all really familiar themers. I didn’t realize at first that BO PEEP was a themer; I just thought it was a cute answer. When I hit COWBOY BEBOP, I realized what was going on. JUMBO PENCIL was also very cool and fresh, conjuring a specific image of the writing utensil.

I thought there was some great fill in this puzzle. There were many Js, which can be difficult to work with, but that didn’t stop JANE DOE and JABS, in addition to the two themers beginning with J. It’s no surprise that this is an asymmetric grid, as it would be difficult to do symmetry with four themers and have BOP move as it does up through the answers. It worked out well, making the NW corner particularly open with CORE VALUE and STAR ANISE. Likewise, IS IT REAL in the SE and even PRIVATE in the SW are open as a result of the asymmetry.

Some other favourites:

  • 17a [How some crosswords are solved] – I solved this one on the app, but some folks are brave enough to do puzzles IN PEN. Love this meta reference to puzzling.
  • 38a [Soft pat on a pet’s nose]BOOP is such a cute word, and it seems to me to match with the general vibe of BO PEEP too.
  • 50a [“You are on ___ land”] – I thought that this was a great clue for NATIVE.

Overall, this was a great entry in our High School Musical saga! Bop bop bop!

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32 Responses to Sunday, October 29, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: Even the way ARI was clued made the puzzle feel “of this moment”!

    I play a lot of Scrabble, so I usually solve pretty quickly when there’s an anagram or letter bank theme. I enjoyed unraveling the various fabrics* and learning some new stuff like the HODGE conjecture and the existence of PLASMONs and LUMPIAs.

    Whether I retain any of that new stuff is another matter. We watched a show on Netflix about the use of autotuning in pop music, and I couldn’t really remember T-PAIN’s name until I had three letters. On the other hand, two or three crossword appearances have cemented BOP IT in my brain, so who knows?

    SAY NO MORE conjures up Eric Idle in the classic “nudge, nudge” sketch. And BURT Lancaster conjures up “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Seven Days in May,” and “The Swimmer,” among others. And FERRETS brings to mind this unforgettable moment:

    *Yes, I realize that Neoprene is not woven and doesn’t unravel.

    • Dallas says:

      PLASMONS are really cool; they give metal nanoparticles their color, and were even used in ancient glassworks:
      Fun Sunday; got to solve it with the family who helped with answers like HOSE.

      • Eric H says:


        I’ve seen dichroic glass used in jewelry-making, but I know absolutely nothing about why it looks that way.

        • Dallas says:

          It’s a really cool phenomenon: it requires that you have metal particles of the right *size*; the color comes from the size of the particles, not the “metal” (it’s typically done with gold or silver particles). And as you change the size, you change the color. Of course, in ancient times, they had no idea what was causing it, but those little bits of gold in the glass make the magic.

  2. PJ says:

    I enjoyed the puzzle. I noticed the pairings but it didn’t seem to impact solving.

    I didn’t know 66a or 54d. My hip-hop and rap knowledge has largely been acquired through crosswords. When I see TPAIN I know I’ve seen it before but I couldn’t pull it. I love spring rolls. I’ve likely had a LUMPIA. But I see a lot of menus.

    • JohnH says:

      That crossing was my DNF. The theme was fine, but much else was way too contemporary, to be generous, or just obscure for me. At least I had to learn something, and here I thought I knew particle physics and math. (Obviously Goldbach’s conjecture wasn’t going to fit.)

  3. pannonica says:

    NYT: I rarely do this, but I somehow doubt there’ll be another ‘cut from the same cloth’ theme, so I’m going to intrude with a song share. (Hey, I had none yesterday for either of my write-ups.)

  4. Tony says:

    I didn’t mind the NYT. The only thing I can say is the author must have a big tolerance to red jalapeños. We grew jalapeños this year and the red ones are hotter than the green ones.

    • Eric H says:

      Weird. When I read the JALAPEÑO clue last night, I thought it said “hotter,” not “sweeter.”

    • Martin says:

      The hot sweetness of mature (red) jalapeños is the basis of sriracha sauce. Yes, they add some sugar, but much of the sweetness (and obviously the color) of the sauce comes from the red jalapeño base.

      “The” sriracha, from Huy Fong in California, has been commercially extinct for a year or so because they underestimated the rarity of plant-ripened jalapeños in the US market. Rather than pay their sole supplier their demanded price increase, Huy Fong cut them loose and decided to get the red beauties from other suppliers. They discovered nobody else could meet their needs at the last minute and lost a virtual monopoly. Classic blunder worthy of a business-school lesson.

  5. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: I’ve lived a few blocks from ZABAR’S for 30 years and have never heard it described as a “deli.” It’s a specialty food and cookware market with a takeout cafe attached. Katz’s downtown is a famous deli.

  6. MattF says:

    Mixed feelings about the NYT. As a retired physicist I know about PLASMONs and I’ve heard of the HODGE conjecture, but I’m not really persuaded that it’s fair for them to appear in crossword puzzles. I got the various popcult entries but not LUMPIA, so go figure. The theme was a good one, although NEOPRENE is not a fabric. And so on. Hard to judge.

    • Eric H says:

      I’m not entirely clear on how neoprene is manufactured, but it seems like it’s probably made from fibers that are felted or pressed together.

      By most definitions, it’s both a fabric and a cloth. But it’s not woven or knit the way most of what we think of as “fabric” is.

      I don’t have a science or math background, but neither PLASMONs nor the HODGE conjecture slowed me down. (It turns out that this was one of my fastest NYT Sunday puzzles ever.)

  7. Eric H says:

    Universal Sunday: Squares with circles always seem to slow me down. I just have trouble reading the letters I’ve entered.

    I saw almost immediately that the circled letters spelled vehicles (though I agree that UBER isn’t a distinct type of vehicle). But I was halfway through before I realized that the other letters in each theme answer spelled a common phrase. Maybe noticing that made the puzzle easier, maybe not.

    There weren’t many unknowns in the fill (not surprising, since Universal puzzles have less of that than some other publications). I don’t watch sports, so UPSET ALERT was new to me, but I’m sure it’s a thing.

    I’m unclear on how “Backup device for formal occasions” gets you to SECOND BUSTIER. Or maybe it’s SECOND BUS TIER? I sort of know what a computer bus is. But if the answer is three words, it’s the odd one out because BUS is not incorporated into another word.

  8. Lester says:

    WaPo: If I did this puzzle in 2018, I succeeded in forgetting it (my best-developed skill), and I thoroughly enjoyed and admired it this time. I suppose with his paternal duties, Evan is even less likely than usual to look at the star ratings, but I’m happy to see that half of the scores for this puzzle are 5s.

  9. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    WaPo: Just no. There is no connection between ghostwriter names to be omitted and the answers that they are to be omitted from. I guess “challenging” is one description.

    • Martin says:

      The connection is that when the names are inserted, the resulting new words and all crossing entries are actual words. This is Evan’s signature. The extra “crossing” this gave the solver was a big help in filling the grid. Once you had a writer, slotting it into the entries with the gaps by noting the downs completing as plausible entries helped make short work of the solve. Evan gave you the “ghostwriters,” signaled the entries that had gaps for them, and gave you crossings that accepted the ghostwriters like jigsaw puzzle pieces. I thought it was very fair.

  10. Eric H says:

    WaPo: It’s a great concept, well-handled by Evan Birnholz as always.

    But I solved in AcrossLite. It’s entirely possible that I missed it, but I didn’t see *any* indication that the starred clues meant that the answers had authors’ names in them. (Those clues are for the answers without the names.)

    When I finished, I had gaps of varying sizes in the answers to the starred clues. I checked one answer that still had empty squares, and AcrossLite seemed to tell me it was correct. Maybe if I had revealed a single answer, I’d have gotten the complete trick. Instead, revealed the whole puzzle, and all the authors filled in.

    There’s this italicized language from Jim Q’s 2018 review: “*It should be noted that there are six more symmetrically placed (!) theme answers which directly clue the “ghosted” writers themselves, all clued as Ghostwriter of [insert work here].” That looks to me like part of the review, not the puzzle.

    It was a challenge to fill in the grid until I realized what squares to skip in answers like 4D MAE (which turns into MANE when you add NIN to 23A).

    I’m really curious to know if I missed something that would have helped me get the trick. As it was, I found it frustrating.

    • Dallas says:

      I solved it on a plane ride to a conference, and it was very challenging (took me well over an hour! Normally I can do Evan’s Sunday puzzle in around 20-30 minutes), but I really loved it. It felt the most like slowly unraveling a mystery, and (for me) really paid off. It was DINING OUT / DIG OUT that did it for me, then I was trying to see if ANIAS went somewhere… but it was GORGON / GORGONZOLA that made me realize what was happening. While I recognized all of the authors, I didn’t recognize most of the works. When the final letter went in, and it was by some miracle all correct, it was very satisfying.

      I wish Evan and his partner the best for parenthood, too; I’m a bit more than 8 years in, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. Hope everything is going well, even with the early arrival.

    • Eric, I think you missed the six short symmetrical Across answers whose clues would have helped you in a big way. 48A, 55A, 60A, 92A, 94A, and 99A are all clued as [Ghostwriter of “{insert work here}”?]. Those were the authors who were missing from the starred answers — “ghost” writers, so to speak.

      • Eric H says:

        Thanks, Evan, for taking time away from your new-dad duties.

        I think I just wasn’t paying enough attention. Two things I should have realized: (1) That AcrossLite was confirming that the letters I’d typed in the long theme answers (e.g 23A) were correct, but it was not saying that the empty squares were correct (in other words, all it was telling me was that I had no errors in those answers); and (2) that the lack of a message about my completed grid meant that I hadn’t completed the grid.

        This is one of those puzzles where I wish I had spent a little more time trying to figure it out. It’s really very clever.

  11. Seattle DB says:

    WaPo: Evan says to ignore the ratings and to back up his claim, when his puzzle originally ran in Oct 2018 it got a 4.15 rating. Today is has a 3.8 rating. (Different raters back then, I suppose.)

    • Hi Seattle, can I ask a favor? I do ignore the ratings, and one of the ways I do that is I scroll past them immediately on opening each Fiend page. I’d rather not know what the ratings of my puzzles are at any time, so I’d ask that people not share them in the comment section. Thanks.

  12. Seattle DB says:

    WaPo: My only nit with this puzzle is 95D. “Part of ABD” and the answer is “BUT”. Does ABD mean “all but dissertation”??? (Where’s Evan when I need him, lol!)

  13. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: This puzzle’s theme was boring, and the editor’s cluing was once again askew.

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