Sunday, May 26, 2024

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 13:20 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:51 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 5:26 (Matthew) 


John Kugelman’s New York Times crossword, “Roughly Speaking” — Nate’s write-up

05.26.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

05.26.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 21A KNOCK ON WOOD [*”That rotted old log ain’t even fit for termite food!”]
– 31A KNITTING NEEDLE [*”Huh, I wasn’t aware I was at an ugly sweater party”]
– 45A BURN AFTER READING [*”The only mystery in this novel is why I finished it”]
– 59A ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG [*”My dog could translate an ancient Mesopotamian tablet faster than you”]
– 75A BLAST FROM THE PAST [*”Thou art a villainous knave”]
– 89A PUT DOWN ON PAPER [*”Dear John, I’m writing you this letter to tell you — it’s not me. It’s 100% you.”]
– 101A FRENCH ROAST [*”Tu as le Q.I. d’une huître” (“You have the I.Q. of an oyster”)]

Each themer is reimagined through the lens of an insult / putdown: 21A is an insult about (“knock on”) wood, 45A is an insult (burn) about a book after reading it, etc. There was enough variety in the themers that it kept my interest, though I’ll admit that some seemed more stretchy (or more mean!) than others. This might not be a puzzle for folks who try to stay positive and kind, but it’ll certainly be a laugh for others.

What did not quite spark joy for me in the puzzle was how many of the clues or entries felt dated or like crosswordese. As soon as I saw GAOL, AMBI, ACK, IGOR, RKO, MON, DIT, NESS in the top bit of the grid alone, I had a sense of what type of solve I was in store for. Erik Agard once gave me amazing advice that a puzzle often lives or dies based on the strength of its shortest fill (no matter how strong the theme and longer fill are), and this puzzle’s shortest fill felt relatively roughly all around. My solve time was still fine, but the experience filling in many sections (NGO SOOTIER CCR NIC, NAVE GARR FIVE-O, etc.) was less so. This puzzle certainly has a lot of fun longer fill, but I think that came at the expense of the shorter fill. My hope is that as this constructor gets even more experience, his short fill game will improve to match the strength and fun of his themes.

How did the puzzle feel for you? Let us know in the comments! And remember, as always, to be civil and constructive in both your feedback about the puzzle and in how you respond to each other. It’s okay if a puzzle wasn’t for you, but insulting either the constructor or each other isn’t the way. Let’s leave the knocks, needles, burns, digs, blasts, put downs, and roasts to this puzzle’s theme. :)



Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Screen Gems” — Matt’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Screen Gems” solution, 5/25/2024

Colored squares and circled letters greet us this week. Let’s see what we’ve got.

The puzzle title is “Screen Gems”, and each themer is a movie title, with a portion colored, and separately a circled letter:

  • 23a [2001 Oscar-winning film about the mathematician John Nash] A BEAUTIFUL MIND
  • 31a [2012 romantic comedy about teenagers in love] THE FIRST TIME
  • 54a [2017 superhero film featuring Zords (battle vehicles modeled on prehistoric creatures)] POWER RANGERS
  • 70a [1947 film that topped Christina Newland’s “50 Best Boxing Movies” list in Paste Magazine] BODY AND SOUL
  • 88a [2000 adventure film in which “Fly Me to the Moon” plays during the end credits] SPACE COWBOYS
  • 107a [1994 romantic dramedy starring Winona Ryder as an aspiring documentary filmmaker] REALITY BITES
  • 117a [Colorful artifacts of Avengers films, represented by the puzzle’s shaded words] INFINITY STONES
  • 123a [Josh who played the supervillain who collected the 117 Across (this supervillain is spelled out in the puzzle’s circled squares)] BROLIN

Each of the colored portions are hued to match their respective infinity stone – literally “Screen Gems” – from the Avengers films. It’s surprising to think that decade-long arc ended five years ago. I enjoyed the theme, which helped with a few of the entries – I haven’t heard of THE FIRST TIME or BODY AND SOUL, and other than A BEAUTIFUL MIND, I didn’t recognize the other films from the clues. While solving, I thought the circled letters spelling out THANOS were extraneous fluff, but having Josh BROLIN as a secondary revealer was a nice touch, and I’m glad they were there.


  • 43a [Euchre declaration that makes aces the highest cards] NO TRUMP. This variant is unfamiliar to me – I might play where the dealer is forced to call trump, or where if no trump is called, the deal is lost and passed on, but I’ve never played ace-high euchre.
  • 69a [___ Pretenders (Norwegian baseball team)] OSLO. Lately, the go-to cluing angle for OSLO across the puzzles I solve has been to reference one Scandinavian museum or another. Refreshing to see something different.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Double Talk”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are colloquial phrases of the form “x AND y” where x and y are rough synonyms of each other. Further, clues for these entries are colloquial reduplicative terms unrelated to the entries, but where each half might be a synonym for x and y.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Double Talk” · Paul Coulter · 5.26.24

  • 23a. [*Hush-hush?] PEACE AND QUIET. “Hush” could be a synonym for “peace” (roughly) as well as for “quiet.”
  • 38a. [*”Chop chop!”?] SLICE AND DICE. This one is straightforward and a clear example of the theme.
  • 46a. [*Can-can?] PITCH AND TOSS. This one’s different. Seems to me that “can” means to throw away. Both “pitch” and “toss” can mean this also, but don’t in the original phrase.
  • 67a. [*Din-din?] HUE AND CRY. Do we ever use “hue” to mean “noise” outside of this phrase?
  • 83a. [*”All right, all right!”?] SAFE AND SOUND.
  • 93a. [*”Nudge, nudge”?] PUSH AND SHOVE.
  • 112a. [*”Well, well”?] GOOD AND PROPER.

I was slow to grok the theme, but it grew on me. These are some really nice finds. They’re not entirely consistent though where, for example, “nudge” in 93a doesn’t change meaning but “din” in 67a does (where it was originally short for “dinner”). But that inconsistency didn’t bother me in the least with a theme this tight. Looking at it from the constructor’s perspective, not only do you have to find “and” phrases with synonymous words, but then you have to find colloquial reduplicative terms that can apply to both words in your phrase. That’s a tall order, so I’m impressed with this theme set. Nicely done.

Lots to like in the fill as well with SOCRATIC, INTEL INSIDE, ACCESS CARDS, EURASIA, HAND PUMPS, “HERE I AM,” SHARP TURN, CANTEENS, and EYE OF RA. However, I’m not convinced that WASTE AREA is an actual phrase. Also, I needed every crossing for STASTNY [“Peter the Great” of the NHL], and I still wasn’t sure of it after I filled it in. Same with UNU, but at least that one was quick to double-check. ID NO is MEH.

Clue of note: 71a. [Classic name in wafers]. NECCO. I’m going to guess about 80-85% of solvers (including me) went with NILLA first. What do you think?

Four stars from me.

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25 Responses to Sunday, May 26, 2024

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: I’m not a big fan of punny themes, but these puns weren’t too bad. I backed into ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG before I really understood the theme (as I often do, I skipped the title), so I expected DIG to be something DInG. Throw in the pretentious spelling of “archeological” and it took me a bit to figure that out.

    I don’t disagree with Erik Agard’s wisdom about short fill, but there wasn’t anything in this grid that much bothered me. Perhaps that’s a sign of my having solved too many crosswords.

    Teri GARR and NIC Cage evoke wonderful movies like “Young Frankenstein” and “Raising Arizona.” How can you not like that?

    OK, I did lose 30 seconds on RKO; I had Fred and Ginger at the more well-heeled MGM until ATRIAL set me straight.

    • JohnH says:

      I thought the theme was nice for a Sunday, and the fill Nate singles out is more overused crossword staples than obscurities. I was more thrown by the Hindu goddess, the drummer, Switch, the swimmer, and the like, all precisely the thing that Agard can’t get enough of. But overall pretty decent, and interesting to see a novel clue for UMA for a change.

      • Lois says:

        NYT: I appreciated Nate’s sincere opinion, but his comments reflect a real age gap in the appreciation of various clues. To illustrate one example, I don’t think RKO as the studio for the Astaire-Rogers films is an overused clue, just a bit obscure for younger people. I’m not up on my studios that much, but it was a romantic gimme. Films other than Marvel films and the like are on the way out, and, for many people, so is the concept of film as art and film classics altogether. If Astaire-Rogers warrant their fame and I believe they do, viewers will see “RKO” most of the time when they start viewing one of their films. At the same time, Erik Agard, whom Nate cites as a fount of wisdom regarding short fill, has constructed some of the most confoundingly opaque crosswords for my taste.

        • Bob Giovanelli says:

          Besides lots of RKO films on the TCM channel & WatchTCM app (and on the streamer Max, as well) to get used to that logo of a past studio, many younger people who’ve never seen a classic RKO film (“shudder”), they HAVE to know it from the setpiece in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when they duplicate that logo on a stage in the castle, and 1-3 songs take place in front of it…and, spoiler alert, it even mimics the King Kong skyscraper-climb on the RKO antenna before crashing into the pool.

        • Not a Nitpicker says:

          Your comment regarding ‘age gap’ points to an existential dilemma facing everyone who constructs crosswords:
          How do you use fill that is accessible, and appeals to all generations?
          The short answer is…
          you can’t.
          The best you can do is create a puzzle with a variety of answers, a mix of common knowledge and what’s new and recent, the known and the unfamiliar, proper names, and popular culture.

          As to the ongoing debate over the overuse of crosswordese:

          I don’t nitpick puzzles.If I like a clever, original theme, and have an enjoyable time solving it, that’s all I need. Familiar short fill can provide toeholds, is what I use to suss out longer answers.

          I also think that long time solvers, and crossword critics either forget or overlook the reality that the majority of people who do crosswords in newspapers, are casual solvers…so you have to create puzzles with widespread accessibility.

    • pannonica says:

      31d Citizen KANE was an RKO picture.

      • Eric H says:

        Indeed it was.

        One of the few books to survive our pre-moving book purge was a tome my brother gave me when I was 11 or 12 called “The Citizen Kane Book.” It’s got the complete shooting script, tons of stills, and a long essay by Pauline Kael about the making of the movie.

        • JohnH says:

          Great book. I realize she had a chip on her shoulder that induced its writing, about Truffaut and, more personally, Andrew Sarris with the auteur theory. But she did as much as anyone herself in praise of Truffaut and in supporting the new American directors back then. (Speaking of which, another great book in that line is Truffaut’s Hitchcock interviews.)

          • Eri says:

            Thanks for the recommendation. My brother also gave me Truffaut’s “The Films in My Life,” which introduced me to some of my favorite movies.

  2. Paige Bernhardt says:

    I agree that the at times familiar fill let me race through some sections thinking it was going to be a breezy spring solve. But I took a stab with LOSSLEADER at 63D and got derailed for a bit. Long enough to let me get a good chuckle at the puns! And now I’ve got the Queen song in my head. Thanks, Kugelman!

  3. David Steere says:

    WAPO: Evan has the almost uncanny ability to take subjects which hold little interest for me (e.g., the MCU, video games, etc.) and intricately weave them into a multi-faceted joy. Today’s is no exception. Thanks for the puzzle, Evan. Thank you also for 43 Across. My only regret is having traded in my color inkjet printer for a black and white laser. David

    • Philippe says:

      Excellent indeed, but a tad too easy.

    • David L says:

      I agree. Good puzzle but all the extra stuff was lost on me (although I managed to recall from somewhere that Josh Brolin was THANOS — and didn’t he kill off half the universe or something? I guess the colored stones saved the other half. Whatever.)

    • Seattle DB says:

      EB is the preeminent crossword creator nowadays, and I can only compare him to Merl Reagle. Even his average puzzles are better than most of the rest.

  4. damefox says:

    NYT: I enjoyed the theme – it actually made me laugh a couple times, which is rare for a Sunday NYT. I see what Nate means about the short fill, but I want to push back on “as this constructor gets even more experience, his short fill game will improve.” This strikes me as a bit patronizing and unfair. John Kugelman has had four Sunday puzzles published in the NYT in the last year. Seems like whatever he’s doing is working. If editors stopped accepting puzzles with fill like this, or insisted it be changed before publication, constructors would start trying not to include it. If the goal of constructing a crossword is having it accepted for publication at a major outlet, then it doesn’t seem like this constructor needs to improve his short fill game. That’s on the editors to decide they don’t want puzzles with fill like this anymore. To be fair, I also sort of wish the short fill was better in this puzzle, but I feel like this is more of an editing issue than a constructing issue.

  5. Franck says:

    NYT: A fun enough solve with a few colorful entries in the longer slots, though I did cringe at COINSAWORD. Noticed the dupe of ROTS in the grid and in the clue for KNOCKONWOOD.

    Thought the write-up was overly critical, though. This is the first Sunday in a while that held my interest until the end, and there was some nice cluing along the way. Every Sunday grid will have some gunk, that’s just the nature of filling a 21×21 grid.

    I did have one square wrong in the end though, and I would argue it’s a Natick: CUTDOWNONPAPER instead of PUTDOWNONPAPER. A cutdown and a putdown are both insults, and “cut down on paper” is definitely a set phrase in this day and age of e-bills and going paperless. The lead letter crossed the _EART of an uninferable last name that ended up being PEART, which is just as plausible as CEART to me…i.e. it’s not as clear cut as Parker vs. Carker.

    • Eri says:

      We’ve been going paperless for 20 years, but I wouldn’t say CUT DOWN ON PAPER is “a set phrase.”

      PUT DOWN ON PAPER is common. To me, that avoids whatever uncertainty a solver might have about the first letter in PEART. (The issue never came up for me because even though I am not a Rush fan, I know the names of a few of the band’s members.)

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT: I’m curious about why the reviewer thinks AMBI is crosswordese and/or “dated”? I had trouble filling it in (I had ‘oMnI’ there at first) and gave myself a forehead slap when I realized what the answer was. I’ve come to accept that even after about 25 years of solving crosswords, I have no firm idea of the meaning of “crosswordese”. Reviewers and commenters seem to use this word to mean different things. I tend to think of it as a (usually) old-timey word that I only ever see in crossword puzzles. I definitely don’t think of “ambivalent” in that way. On the other hand, “AMBo” (e.g., clued as “pulpit) is crosswordese, at least in my mind.

    • placematfan says:

      Yeah, “crosswordese” is one of those words–like “love” or “God” or “respect” or “spirituality”–that we throw around in conversation, or text, but how often are the interlocutors, or poster and readers, understanding the word to mean the same thing?

  7. BlueIris says:

    NYT: I basically thought it was OK, just 83A “brah” stumped me. I’ve only seen “bruh” before.

  8. Eri says:

    Universal Sunday: Jim wrote, “However, I’m not convinced that WASTE AREA is an actual phrase. Also, I needed every crossing for STASTNY [“Peter the Great” of the NHL], and I still wasn’t sure of it after I filled it in.”

    That was my reaction to the NE corner. As it was where I finished the puzzle, it left me with a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste. Which is too bad, because there were some good theme answers and the clues are generally pretty good.

    Having done some post-puzzle research: Mr. Šťastný is only a few years older than me, and my brain retains the names of some of his NHL contemporaries even though I don’t care at all about hockey. And he represented Slovakia in the European Parliament for 10 years! Puzzle-worthy but challenging.

    • Cynthia says:

      I agree with both your observations re: the NE corner. Also, in response to Jim’s question, I also put NILLA in with confidence. That was where I completed my solve, changing it and then getting the downs.

      • Eric H says:

        Even as I was typing NILLA, I thought it might be NECCO. But the crosses took care of that.

  9. Bob Giovanelli says:

    One of those serendipitious moments happened for me as I played this weekend’s NPR quiz-show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” online as I did the NYT puzzle on my bigger screen. 5-across the answer is GONG, and just as I was filling that in, the quiz-show sounded one of their gongs when someone’s time was up!

  10. R says:

    NYT: While I agree that the quality of short fill affects my experience of doing a puzzle, saying a puzzle “lives or dies by it” makes no sense to me. I generally enjoy a puzzle with a good theme or some good entries held together with mediocre fill much more than I enjoy puzzles with excellent fill and half-hearted themes. Maybe that’s why I’ve been a regular with the NYT for years but only occasionally check in on the other major dailies.

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