Sunday, February 18, 2024

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 13:49 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 14:36 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 6:46 (Matthew) 


Sid Sivakumar’s New York Times crossword, “The Inside Scoop” — Nate’s write-up

02.18.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

02.18.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

Entries down the central grape vine:
– 8D: MERLOT [Variety used to make Bordeaux wine]
– 47D: CONCORD [Variety commonly found in jellies and pies]
– 96D: MUSCAT [Variety that shares its name with a Mideast capital]

Entries crossing the grape vine:
– 31A: GROOMERS [Some kennel personnel] – Shaded squares sound like “rumor”
– 44A: OVERSTOCKS [Orders more of than necessary] – Shaded squares should like “talk”
– 67A: JUDICIOUS [Prudent] – Shaded squares sound like “dish”
– 82A: UNDERTONES [Things that perceptive people might pick up] – Shaded squares sound like “dirt”
– 101A: REVENUES [Proceeds] – Shaded squares sound like “news”

Two-part revealer:
– 13D / 61D: HEARD THROUGH / THE GRAPE VINE [With 61-Down, like some gossip … as represented phonetically by each set of shaded squares?]

Sid’s back with another multi-layered Sunday theme. In this puzzle, the central column is stacked with wine varieties and, some of the entries crossing that grape vine can be heard to be giving out some juicy grapes gossip (or rumor / talk / dish / dirt / news, as the theme entries would phonetically have them). What a cool idea, especially since each of the soundalikes is pitch perfect to my ear, which is often tough to pull off!

Random thoughts:
– It is refreshing to see AIDS clued as the the disease (and via an organization like ACT UP founded to fight to end that pandemic) rather than as “assistants.”
– The cluing in this puzzle felt really fresh and conversational, and I loved bonus fill like HATERADE and ATE KOSHER.
(- Actual LOL at the coincidence of PENN STATE being in this puzzle after my particular gripe about last week’s puzzle.)

What did you think about the puzzle? Pull up a chair and dish below – and have a great weekend!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Rising From The Depths” — Matt’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Rising From The Depths” solution, 2/18/2024

This week’s puzzle from Evan has two different chunks of theme material: circled letters across the top row, and shaded squares in the down-running themers. In my copy of the puzzle, they were all circles, and it was a little tough at first to understand what related to what, but in the .pdf and AmuseLabs it’s clear.

Those circled letters across the top spell SURFACE, while themers and a revealer fit down:

  • 3d [Performances involving partners] BALLROOMDANCES, with SEAL bottom-up in the shaded squares
  • 4d [1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner] A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (MANATEE)
  • 7d [Deceptive pitchers?] SNAKE OIL SALESMAN (SEA LION)
  • 11d [Hospital unit dedicated to psychiatric care] MENTAL HEALTH WARD (WHALE)
  • 14d [Question to a potential millionaire] IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER (WALRUS)
  • 15d [Emerging out of the water to breathe, as this puzzle’s aquatic mammals are preparing to do] COMING UP FOR AIR

A neat theme — SURFACE across the top probably wasn’t strictly necessary to convey it, but I think the fill up there is strong for the additional constraint. I like that each of the themers come up to the top of the grid. This does leave a more themeless-esque bottom chunk of the grid, and it’s nice and open there to take advantage of the reduced constraints.


  • 23a [Senator who received lots of votes (from hockey fans), e.g.] ALL STAR. This feels like a clue that started as a trickier misdirection and the parenthetical added in later, to me
  • 80a [Language of the 1960 film “Mughal-e-Azam”] HINDI. The epic film is likely the highest-grossing Bollywood film ever, when adjusting for inflation.
  • 12d [Ones getting tech support?] CYBORGS. Nice.
  • 50d [Monatomic or polyatomic atom] ION. “Polyatomic atom” seems an oxymoron, no? Edit: looks like I didn’t confirm my version against the final, public puzzle, and this was changed in that time. Sorry!

Jill Singer and Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Tri-City Areas”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases that hide a well-known world capital, except the first and last letters of the city are tripled. The revealer is URBAN SPRAWL (106a, [Expansion at the edges of big cities … as exhibited in the answers to the starred clues]).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Tai-City Areas” · Jill Singer and Jeff Chen · 2.18.24

  • 25a. [*Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren feature] ROCKKKY IVVV. Kyiv.
  • 31a. [*Flawlessly synced state] PERFECTTT UNISSSON. Tunis.
  • 49a. [*Visual representation of integers] NUMBBBER LINNNE. Berlin.
  • 63a. [*Ancient clay soldier unearthed in Xi’an] TERRACOOOTTA WAAARRIOR. Ottawa. The extra Rs and Ts were a distraction here.
  • 81a. [*Traditional song at a Jewish wedding] HHHAVA NAAAGILA. Havana.
  • 97a. [*Bubbly Italian herbal aperitif] CAMPPPARI SSSPRITZ. Paris.

My first encounter with the theme—and probably most solvers’ first encounter—was the KKK at 25a. Needless to say this was…less than ideal, to put it nicely. But once I uncovered the rest of the city and other cities, it started to become a little clearer. (Still, maybe move Kyiv further down the grid or not include it at all.)

But it seemed rather random as to why only the first and last letters were repeated, and the title was not enough of an explanation in this regard. At least the puzzle was consistent as I worked my way down the grid.

Finally, I got to the revealer, and I had the aha moment. It’s a little bit unusual for a puzzle theme, but it makes logical sense, and I like the creativity that went into it. Plus, there are some good finds in the theme answers, especially Ottawa, Havana, and Paris.

In addition, we’re treated to some really wonderful bits of long fill: LOVE SCENE, STEERS CLEAR, SHADOWBOX, THREE-IRON, CREAM ALE, THE HAVES, Z-SNAP, and HATERADE (which makes an appearance in today’s NYT as well). INK A CONTRACT feels a little too green painty for me, but I looove “MAKES NO SENSE” which goes well with “I’M LOST.” I also liked seeing OMAR SY [French star of “Lupin”]. I haven’t watched the latest season yet, so no spoilers, please.

Today I learned the word PAREVE [Containing no meat or dairy] which comes from Yiddish.

RCA jacks

Clues of note:

  • 20a. [Artemis org.]. NASA. “Artemis” makes me think of Andy Weir’s novel of that name which makes me think of his first book, The Martian, which makes me recall that he just added some new content for it in honor of the 10-year anniversary of its release. You can read it here.
  • 95a. [One streaking at night?]. COMET. What?! Another crazy coincidence (in addition to HATERADE). Go do today’s Vertex puzzle on NYT Games and you’ll see.
  • I love it when adjacent entries share cluing elements as seen with 102a [“In your face, loser!”] for “I WON” and 104a [Loser to the tortoise] for HARE. I can just see that cocky tortoise rubbing the hare’s nose in it.
  • 110a. [Regular guy’s muffin?]. BRAN. I was thinking of muffin tops and love handles and wondering why the guy needed to be “regular.” Then the penny dropped. It’s a poop joke, folks.
  • 109d. [Co. that gave its name to a jack]. RCA. It took me until just now to realize what this was referring to. See picture.

Good puzzle once you buy into the theme. 3.75 stars.

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31 Responses to Sunday, February 18, 2024

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Fun and breezy. Loved the audio-visual aspects of this puzzle! I’ve always thought it was an interesting expression- You can visualize neighbors overhearing conversations they were not supposed to, shielded by the dividing grapevines.
    I was on the same wavelength as the constructor, with my first guess often proving to be the right one. Didn’t know HATERADE, but good to learn (kids and grandkids are impressed when I know stuff like that, thanks to the puzzles!).

  2. Eric H says:

    NYT: I skimmed the 13D clue and missed the “represented phonetically” part, so even when I was done, I couldn’t figure out what the gray squares were about. The TOCK homonym doesn’t work for me, but the puzzle was so much fun, I’m not complaining.

    I might’ve had a personal best but for the TRainERS working at my kennel. That kept me from seeing MESSI, who’s always a joy to watch play. Other than that, it was a smooth trip.

    I too thought the ACT UP clue for AIDS was “refreshing.” (I can’t say I was “glad” to see it, as I would much rather that AIDS had never existed.) But I hope no one clues AIDS as “assistants,’ because that would be AIDeS.

    • JohnH says:

      Right on “aides.” Thanks.

      I hate to rave about a puzzle with such easy fill (well, HATERADE was new to me, too), but I enjoyed all those layers, and the last to come out at me, the shaded squares, is even funny. TOCK was the only iffy sound-alike, and I could kinda sorta deal with it.

      I did fall for crossswordese, which shows how overly immersed we are in crosswords. I first had “ester” for ATTAR just because it’s so common in this small world, which slowed me down too long

    • Dallas says:

      I really liked it; getting the sounds of the word parts through the grapevine was very clever. My first thought when I saw the grid was Jack and the Beanstalk (my son’s first thought too!) but it came together really nicely. I had ICE instead of ACE which took some time to fix. A little faster than usual, and a nice solving experience too!

  3. Ned says:

    I had ICE for “delivery that can’t be returned” and wouldn’t know ATTAR from ITTAR from any other perfume ingredient. Still don’t get ACE with that clue. Otherwise, liked it a lot.

    • Oli says:

      Same here! Had entire puzzle correct except for ICE/ITTAR…after settling on ICE I felt pretty content that that delivery would not be returnable…

      But the meaning of ACE is the unreturned tennis serve, so that clue is actually very clever!

      • John+F.+Ervin says:

        Ah, thank you ,”Ace” had me baffled til I came here.I will definitely pass it along to my water aerobics class.
        ( I challenge them when I can with what I consider clever crossword clues).

  4. John L. says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable puzzle. And hoping no one finds fault with the inclusion of PENNSTATE after last week’s SANDUSKY dust-up.

  5. pannonica says:

    NYT: The in situ phonetics of TOCK and NUES were both off for me.

    • MattF says:

      Agree. Idiolect phonetics will vary significantly among individuals. I spent too much time trying to make the shaded squares sound like words.

      • JohnH says:

        Bear in mind, too, that it’s not just about getting the sound right. After all, puns include bad puns.

        But I do often chafe at pronunciation in puzzles, and sure, a dictionary will have “tok” for the sound of TOCK and “tawk” for the sound of TALK. I guess I was making excuses partly out of hatred as a New Yorker of the exaggerated “oaw” in what was once a New York or Brooklyn accent but has long since migrated to the burbs!

  6. Sophomoric Old Guy says:

    NYT – Nice puzzle. I take issue with DIC. I was pronouncing the circled letters as if they were words, not with the sound the letters “make” in the whole word. DIC especially. The C is a K sound not SH. All I could think of is something like, “You don’t know dick.”

    • Sounds Like... says:

      I too had that same aggravation, trying to sound out the shaded squares as words.
      But then I realized that the word Judicious, makes the DIC sound like DISH…and smiled at the cleverness of the construction.

  7. Howard B says:

    Like any phonetic puzzle, there’s going to be differences (for me, it’s TOCK/talk). But that’s just baked into this puzzle type, and if you accept that, this was just a fun romp through the grid where you can appreciate the multiple levels without requiring them to solve.
    It’s a great way to introduce solvers to these kinds of puzzles with less frustration; you just feel good about solving it, and the clues and answers just support that. Thanks Sid!!!

  8. Eric H says:

    It didn’t occur to me until this morning that the crossing of GROOMER and MESSI is a nice little tidbit for fútbol fans.

  9. Karen says:

    NYT: In the UK and in some parts of the U.S. (midwest, northwest) and Canada, TALK is indeed pronounced TOCK.

    • David L says:

      Hmmm, I’m from the UK, and I can’t think of any region there where TALK and TOCK would sound the same.

  10. David L says:

    WaPo: By the time I finished I forgot to go back and look at the circled squares in the top row…

    In the version I printed out, the clue for ION was “monatomic or polyatomic unit.” Which is still a strangely vague clue.

    • Martin says:

      Yes, the clue was changed.

    • The original wording that Matt referred to was incorrect. I changed it to “unit” because even if that’s vague, it’s still accurate. Per this website: “The atoms of a polyatomic ion are tightly bonded together, and so the entire ion behaves as a single unit.”

    • Martin says:

      I don’t like most ION clues. The purist in me insists that an ion is not an atom. An ion is a charged particle. An atom is a neutral particle.

      This clue is better, in my opinion, than the normal “Charged atom” type of clue. It’s reasonable to qualify an ion (the charged particle) as being a charged single atom or charged polyatomic unit. In other words, calling an ion a kind of an atom irks me but calling an ion a monoatomic particle is ok.

      And I know that lots of ion definitions are of the “charged atom” ilk, but I think they’re sloppy.

  11. Dallas says:

    Fun WaPo Sunday! And my town of URBANA got an entry :-) It’s right next to Champaign, which was originally called “West Urbana” then changed its name to a word that literally means “flat place”… which is rather true out here. Really liked the puzzle!

  12. Princi says:

    Enjoyed Nate’s write-up on Sid Sivakumar’s New York Times crossword, “The Inside Scoop” for 02.18.2024. The theme around grape vine varieties and juicy gossip was cleverly executed. The fresh cluing and bonus fill added to the fun solving experience. Kudos to Sid for another engaging puzzle! #CrosswordPuzzle #GrapevineGossip

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