Sunday, November 26, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 12:42 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:13 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:41 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 5:45 (Matthew) 


Adam Wagner and Michael Lieberman’s New York Times crossword, “Growth Spurts” — Nate’s write-up

11.26.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

11.26.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 3D: ENDLESS LO(IN CH)OPS [Barbecue buffet offering?]
– 7D: CO(IN CH)ACHING [Invent the sound of a cash register?]
– 13D: BALLER (IN CH)INA [Yao Ming, before joining the N.B.A.?]
– 30D: CH(INCH)ILLA XING [Peruvian road sign?]
– 43D: LAT(IN CH)EST CRAZES [Reasons that South American furniture stores have super-long lines?]
– 58D: ASPIR(IN CH)ANTS [Things like “What do we want?” “Headache relief!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”]
– 67D: BABY BUM P(INCH) [Affectionate squeeze of an infant’s bottom?]

What a fun puzzle! Each of the theme entries is a normal word/phrase that becomes a zany, funnily-clued phrase when it gains that extra INCH of “Growth Spurt”.

What I appreciated so much about this puzzle – and its theme execution especially – is how wonderfully playful it is with language. Turning ballerina into BALLER IN CHINA? Turning chillaxing (a fun term in its own right) into CHINCHILLA XING? Each themer cracked me up and made me appreciate how much fun you can have with words, which is what makes this a top-notch Sunday for me. As a constructor who’s had a bit of writer’s block lately, this puzzle has reminded me how much fun it is to play with language in a silly but modern and inviting way. What a BEAUT this puzzle is!

In addition to the stellar theme execution, there was so much fun bonus fill throughout the puzzle, including BAES, TOO SOON, IT’S ALL A LIE, HOME TURF, DISCO BRA, UTAH UTES, SANDAL TANS, I CANNOT, YEET, STYLE ICON, and BS METER. Wow! The vast majority of the short fill felt super fair, too, which made this a smooth and quick solve for me. I hope you enjoyed it, too!

Random thoughts:
– Did anyone else read [Release, as a trailer] at 52A and assume it was referencing a movie trailer?
– I love learning new things in crosswords, especially when the crossings are otherwise super fair. DESI Lydic at 116D and The CARLE Honors at 76D were new to me, and I look forward to seeing them in future puzzles.

How did this puzzle treat you? Can you think of any other words/phrases that could be INCHed up? Let us know in the comments – and have a great weekend!

Patrick Blindauer’s Washington Post crossword, “Classified Dads” — Matt’s write-up

Patrick Blindauer’s Washington Post crossword solution, “Classified Dads,” 11/26/2023

Patrick Blindauer is our guest constructor this week. Until this very moment, I had seemingly read too quickly and thought this was an odd puzzle for Patrick Berry, heavy on the show biz. Turns out there’s a reason for that.

Anyway, five across themers and two downs have the letter strings -DAD- hidden in them:

  • 23a [Eternally] FOREVER AND A DAY
  • 40a [North American capital, to some] CIUDAD DE MEXICO
  • 73a [“Vamoose!”] SKEDADDLE
  • 102a [Postal pair] NAME AND ADDRESS
  • 123a [Did some undercover work, say] LED A DOUBLE LIFE
  • 3d [Currency of the North Atlantic] BERMUDA DOLLAR
  • 63d [Broadcast journalist who was an executive producer of “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks] SOLEDAD O BRIEN

Evocative theme set. I quite like that the -DAD- in the middle themer (SKEDADDLE) is plum center of the grid, and that the DADs in the first and last across themers are symmetric to each other. Alas, it doesn’t carry to the other symmetrically paired themers.

Away from the theme, the grid design is a delight, with space all up and down both the left and right edges, and roomy entree to the middle areas. There’s plenty of nice flow around the grid for the solver, certainly helped by fitting some vertical themers in and allowing for plenty of medium-long downs.


  • 1a [Son in “Next to Normal”] GABE. I was unfamiliar with this title, a 2008 musical that won three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • 21a [Neon ____ (nickname of the NFL/MLB pro Sanders)] DEION. Sanders was also known as “Primetime,” with both nicknames referencing his penchant for flashy plays. He is currently head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes football team, where he’s struggled to back up the braggadocio with results.
  • 31a [Aristotle’s H] ETA. ‘H’ being the symbol for a capital ETA in the Greek alphabet.
  • 34a [Bygone Ritz rival] HIHO. I think I’m still waiting to see a reference to HIHO crackers outside of crosswords.
  • 44a [Bronco swapped for a Charger, say] TRADE IN. This is referencing two car makes, but I was led down a path of thinking of the football teams Broncos and Chargers, and trying to find the right “trade” phrase.
  • 48a [Theresa Rebeck play about a 10-week writing course] SEMINAR. Starring Alan Rickman (later replaced by Jeff Goldblum) in the lead role.
  • 62a [Where playoffs play] ESPN. As in “play (on TV)”
  • 71a [“Who Said It: Kendall ___ Ken Doll” (BuzzFeed quiz)] OR A. This is a deft way to clue a partial, but I have to say; while they’re not new, I’m quickly tired of cluing approaches that ask the solver to fill in the blank of a (purportedly viral) Tweet, headline from The Onion, BuzzFeed, (purportedly viral) Reddit post, or some other such. It can introduce some color to a benign word, but it rings no differently for me than the endless fill-in-the-blank quote clues for “art,” “life,” or “love.”
  • 82a [“The Powerpuff Girls” voice actress Strong] TARA. If I only know one voice actress (and I might know a few more), I know Strong, who has leant her voice to a litany of cartoons and video games.
  • 92a [Organ part] STOP. As in a musical instrument “organ” rather than a body part.
  • 120a [Mr. ___!: The Fireside Detective (board game)] REE. In addition to the show biz leanings, Patrick is an avid board gamer. Mr. REE! seems to be a precursor to Cluedo, different in that the murder takes place during the gameplay rather than before players get started.
  • 6d [“What I Know for Sure” author] OPRAH. I’m a bit surprised to learn this book came out as late as 2014. I would have placed it closer to the 2008 financial crisis. I wasn’t a fan when I read it, but I see that it generally has good reviews.
  • 18d [“Damn Yankees” ballplayer] SENATOR. The SENATORs being the Washington, DC team in the 1950s era of the show.
  • 46d [“Poker Face” actress Lyonne] NATASHA and 51d [University of Iowa athlete] HAWKEYE. Neither is clued to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but each of these adjacent entries could have been clued to (non-superpowered) colleagues on the Avengers: NATASHA Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow, and sharpshooter Hawkeye.

Jeffrey Martinovic & William Yuan’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Applied Math”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar idiomatic phrases but they’re punnily applied to various math disciplines.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Applied Math” · Jeffrey Martinovic & William Yuan · 11.26.23

  • 24a. [*The punny math teacher had six lessons for her students. To tackle fractions …] DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
  • 31a. [*For adding negative numbers …] MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
  • 52a. [*In trig problems …] LOOK FOR AN ANGLE.
  • 68a. [*For linear equations …] TAKE TO THE SLOPES.
  • 86a. [*With calculus problems …] KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
  • 106a. [*Regarding geometry problems …] TURN UP THE VOLUME. Well, for 3D geometry, I suppose.
  • 118a. [*Her punchline, if a student fails to apply her advice] SORRY, WRONG NUMBER.

Enjoyable theme set! I can’t say I’m a math nerd myself, but I did major in both electrical engineering and English, so a puzzle that marries the technical (or mathematical in this case) with the verbal speaks to me. Nerdy and wordy. I like it!

There are some other great words and phrases in the grid as well such as BLACK MAGIC, HOUSE OF GOD, EGOCENTRIC, OEDIPUS REX, TOP DOG, “SO I SEE,” GUNKY, and BRA PAD. A phrase like IT GURU feels a bit made-up, and the crossings are a little uncommon (GYRO, QUAY, LIU), so I wonder if that was a sticking point for some. OR DOC is similarly but a little less suspect.

Clues of note:

  • 43a. [Fitting name for an Uber driver?]. CARR. In my experience, these types of clues usually lead to a first name, so a surname was unexpected. Cruciverb lists singer Vikki and author Caleb as the two most popular CARRs.
  • 46a. [Bad sign at a beach]. FIN. Who would put up a sign with the word FIN on it? What, is it at the end of a French beach? (You’re welcome. Bad dad jokes are my specialty. I’ll be here all week.)
  • 77a. [Flex time?]. YOGA. Good clue.

Nice puzzle with an enjoyable theme. Fun and smooth fill. 3.75 stars. And a debut for William Yuan. Congrats!

Kelsey Dixon’s USA Today crossword, “Early Disco” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Kelsey Dixon

Theme: Each theme answer includes DISCO at the start, making it EARLY in the word.

Theme Answers

Kelsey Dixon's USA Today crossword, “Early Disco” solution grid for 11/26/2023

Kelsey Dixon’s USA Today crossword, “Early Disco” solution grid for 11/26/2023


  • 20a [Community spaces on a chat platform designed for gamers] DISCORD SERVERS
  • 35a [List of every Mariah Carey album, for example] DISCOGRAPHY
  • 52a [Bewilder and bamboozle] DISCOMBOBULATE

When I saw the title of this puzzle, I was so curious about what it would involve, since DISCO is a prefix I think about, and certainly, I didn’t anticipate how it would be used in this puzzle. However, once I filled in DISCORD SERVERS, it was clear what the theme was, and I used it to fill in both DISCOGRAPHY and DISCOMBOBULATE. These were all really fun and interesting, and I enjoyed the set immensely.

I blew through this puzzle, coming in just over three minutes, and I think that’s partly due to the fact that I filled in DISCO on two of three themers. It also helped that these were clued really cleanly. However, they were also super fun. I especially liked the following:

  • 49a [Bronny James, to Lebron] – Fun fact: I grew up in Cleveland, and my best friend’s mom was a teacher and had Lebron James’ SON Bronny at her school for a period of time.
  • 6d [___ Back (decolonization campaign)] – I love seeing attention drawn to campaigns working to highlight some of the injustices perpetuated by settlers, and LANDBACK is no different. You can learn more here.
  • 51d [Nickelodean’s green goo]SLIME Time Live is such a central part of my childhood, and so this was a nice throwback for me.

Other fave fil include KNEAD, OVER EASY, and DARLINGS.

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25 Responses to Sunday, November 26, 2023

  1. Bryan says:

    NYT: Good puzzle. Like Nate, I locked in on “trailer” in 52A and couldn’t get my mind off movies. Maybe because I’ve been watching a lot of movies on this long holiday weekend. Once I got a couple of the “INCH”es, I realized all the gray squares were INCH, and that was a bit anticlimactic. I kept hoping for different four-letter measurements, such as yard, foot, pint, etc. — or even measurements of other length. That’s a theme idea for another day. As it is, like Nate did, I enjoyed the playfulness of this one.

    • Dallas says:

      I liked it, but I had the same thought you did regarding the theme; about half way through and I had “INCH” in one, and looked around at the others with I_C_ and _N_H and I___ and I just filled all the grey in on the spot, which made it easier. Really liked the theme answers today :-)

      • DougC says:

        In a Sunday puzzle, I would call that a feature, not a flaw. With so many squares to fill, when a few are obvious, I’m grateful!

        I really enjoyed this! Much more interesting than the average Sunday.

  2. David L says:

    Both the NYT and the WaPo puzzles were disappointing, IMO. Adding INCH to all the phrases in the former made for an easy solve, and with a couple of exceptions the wacky phrases were not all that amusing. Having a bunch of DADs in the WaPo themers was appropriate for Evan B, but I was expecting some sort of extra payoff. Mr. Birnholz has set a high standard for his Sunday puzzles, and this one falls short.

    • Eric H says:

      I was disappointed with the NYT puzzle, too. I have enjoyed previous puzzles by Adam Wagner and Michael Lieberman, so maybe I just had my expectations set too high.

      Sometimes, wacky crossword answers amuse me. These generally did not. CHINCHILLAXING would have been a lot more fun if the word “chillaxing” didn’t make my skin crawl.

      The constructor notes in the Wordplay column say that the NYT editors rejected “Impressive tennis shot by a Dr. Seuss antihero?”/AMAZING GRINCH ACE. I like that better than the theme answers that made the cut, but that could just be because the Grinch is my favorite Dr. Seuss character.

      On the other hand, I solved it very quickly, and it’s now one of my 10 fastest NYT Sundays.

      • Katie says:

        Wait, one last thing:
        Hmm, I got all 4 of my own (iffy) ideas before bed (Saturday night) – and without seeing Wordplay. Given my own (independent) overlap with “grinch” and “w(in ch)alk__” — now looking at Wordplay, I mean — I’m WAY more impressed!

        As in: I fully conclude this is a tricky, clever and fun theme to pull off. (Right?! C’mon!!)


    • JohnH says:

      I felt the same way. These things are subjective, and I’m sure others find the themers amusing, and the constructors were pleased with them as well. But for me they felt more like last resorts.

      Maybe if the puzzle had sacrificed one for a funny revealer. As it is, the title doesn’t restrict growth spurts to inches, so all you have is the Sunday bio note, that both have little children, who no question grow by inches and not by yards. But for me just a lot of forced phrases with or without the INCH.

      • Katie says:

        …and despite my “all the positives” post – yeah, agreed, somehow this wasn’t quite what it could have been – somehow. :-]

        But top marks for difficulty in finding the “inch” entries, anyway.

  3. Katie says:

    GR(INCH) OWING PAINS (Why Uncle Bob no longer gives gifts at Xmas?)
    W(IN CH)ALKED UP TO (Victory explain by) = not weird enough, unless its “up to the plate” (too long), or similar: Explanation for first prize at the cake contest?
    FL(INCH)ED THE SCENE (Failed in role as corpse?)
    GR(IN CH)ILLED CHEESE (“Smile and say ‘Limberger!'” ??)

    OK, sure, I’d say getting good ones (vs what’s above) is a challenge, and that it was a neat idea. The good part about having “inch” everywhere, for me, was to be able the get the weird theme entries before too much overlap in fill. If I’m still figuring out stuff about the theme only AFTER having filled everything – I feel a bit deflated.

    Food for thought:
    I’m still jokingly unsure on how “latin chest craze” was originally intended by its creator (whichever of the two authors), given its particular weirdness. ;-) (Is that just me?) Same with “coin chaching”. Wondering if those themes were reclued. I really liked the “aspirin chant”. That one needed excellent clueing – and got it!

    Safe travels, all…

    • Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

      Cha-ching is a slang term for the sound of money, and coin is a legitimate word for creating a phrase, so I actually liked that one.

      • Katie says:

        @Grumpy – agreed! And thanks! I did understand chaching=“cha-ching” – and I liked it. I meant: my neural circuits map cha-ching to cash registers and slot machines, which in turn map to “coin” in a different sense… So I’m just musing on any evolution/improvements, in clueing, after getting phrases.

        In short, good clues. (Yes: I shall shut up now.)

  4. Mutman says:

    NYT: put me in the ‘liked it’ column. The themers were a lot of fun.

    One note: I’m not sure if they could have adjusted the font and grid in the paper edition (which I do on Sundays), but the four INCH blocks together measured 7/8”. It would have been awesome with a perfect one inch!

    • DougC says:

      Love it!

      This one entry was enough to make the entire puzzle worthwhile.

      • JohnH says:

        I’d have liked that one more if I had an association between chinchillas and Peru (rather than just fur and pets). Without that, no real “aha!” And then, oops, it turns out per Wiki that they’re no longer in Peru at that.

  5. aura says:

    RE: NYT
    This is what passes for what Will calls “the gold standard for crossword puzzles?” Dude needs another job.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Yeesh. This type of comment is a perfect example of unconstructive criticism (aka hot air). Why not write at least a few words about why you didn’t like it? Were there specific clue/answer combos that you object to? Is it that the theme didn’t do anything for you? Did Will or the constructors run over your dog with their car? I guess it’s just a lot easier to say “Will Shortz sucks”.

      Personally, I struggled with this puzzle more than I do most NYT Sunday grids and apparently more than most of the commentariat here. That often takes away from my enjoyment of a puzzle, particularly Sunday-sized grids. But in this case, once I understood how it worked, I thought the theme was very creative and well done. It can’t have been easy to come up with reasonable themers of the necessary length to maintain symmetry in the grid and then clue them in an interesting way while keeping the puzzle do-able. I was impressed.

  6. JohnH says:

    I may not have liked the puzzle, and Shortz did run over my chinchilla (just kidding), but SF’s comment is well put and very constructive.

  7. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Mostly pretty smooth solving, but the SE was challenging. SOLEDAD O’BRIEN does not sound at all familiar, and that’s an unusual name. I also have no memory of SHEBA cat food. At least I finally remembered the key of Bach’s Mass.

    • Dallas says:

      I remembered SOLEDAD from the late 90’s / early 2000s on CNN, I thought… though I managed to misspell her name as SOLIDAD, which was the one mistake I had. It was a pretty good Sunday, though the SE was last for me as well (REE and some others down there… tricky). I ended up doing most of it over lunch and finishing it tonight.

    • Who Dat? says:

      Soledad O’Brian is a highly respected news reporter and producer, who’s worked for NBC & HBO. She currently hosts ‘Matter of Fact’, a news magazine now in its seventh season. I watch it on Sunday mornings after ‘This Week With…’ on ABC.

      • Eric H says:


        I haven’t watched TV news in about 30 years, so I’m not surprised that I didn’t recognize the name.

  8. Mr. [not really] Grumpy says:

    NYT: Just occurred to me and [unless I missed it] has not been noted yet. [Maybe it was obvious to everyone except me?] When you have a growth spurt [per the title], you add INCHes, so there was at least a reason for the tedious task of adding the same letters to each theme entry. Made me feel just a little bit better about the puzzle.

    • Katie says:

      @Grumpy (again) It was clear to me…

      But – at a meta-level – 100% agree title-as-theme is easily missed (at first, or entirely) – for better or worse. I think, psychologically, I’m always waiting for the “reveal” to not be “just handed out at the start”. [Again – pretty tricky theme to pull off, in retrospect…]

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