Sunday, February 28, 2021

LAT 7:11 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:08 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:15 (Jim P) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Brad Wiegmann’s New York Times crossword, “Crossword Buff”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 28 21, “Crossword Buff”

Naked puns are the name of the game:

  • 24a. [Leadership style of the nudist club president?], BARELY MANAGING.
  • 41a. [When the nudist club was founded?], MANY MOONS AGO. This one made me smile.
  • 56a. [New members of the nudist club?], RAW RECRUITS. This reminds me of my favorite cinematic shower scene, in Starship Troopers. All the young, fit RAW RECRUITS are in a communal shower, and they’re just getting clean amongst their coed naked colleagues, no fooling around.
  • 78a. [What happens in the stand-up show at the nudist club?], COMIC STRIPS. Too soon!
  • 92a. [Hours spent by the pool at the nudist club?], EXPOSURE TIME. Wear your sunscreen!
  • 4d. [Where the nudist club orchestra plays its concerts?], BOTTOMLESS PIT. What, they’re not topless, too?
  • 59d. [Victory in the annual nudist club 1K?], WINNING STREAK. My neighborhood has a traditional Santa Speedo Run, but it’s 1 mile rather than a mere 1 kilometer. I don’t know how the franks and beans manage during a naked run. I suspect it’s uncomfortable? Certainly many breast-having runners prefer a good sports bra or two to cut down on painful bouncing.
  • 108a. [How people returned from a week at the nudist club?], FULLY RECOVERED. The last Across themer puts the clothes back on.

I liked this theme quite a bit. The phrases are all solid and the thematic clues work.

Overall, the fill was crisp and clean. Highlights include TREBEK and EINSTEIN, OBSESSIVE Ahab, SMIRNOFF, “THAT TOO,” LIVE MÁS, SORE POINT, exercise REST DAY, ESCAPE PLAN, RAINBOW, and a touch of Tolkien in MORIA for those who are so inclined.

Seven more things:

  • 63a. [Two are named after Douglas and Fraser], FIRS. Fraser puts me in mind of cryptic crosswords rather than fir trees, since Fraser Simpson has two new books of cryptics out now. The cryptics are from the Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper) and there are some variety puzzles interspersed among them as well. Volume 1, Volume 2. Have I bought the books? No. I still have other books of crosswords and cryptics I’ve barely touched. The NYT’s Puzzlemania section from early pandemic times? Nary a mark on it. Perhaps if my day job weren’t crosswords, I’d hanker to do more for fun. Instead, jigsaw puzzles get my attention.
  • 35a. [Winter driving hazard], SLEET. This one’s so regional. Chicago rarely gets sleet in the winter, as it needs to be warm enough for that to happen. We did actually get some sleet the other night, though!
  • 59a. [Pans for potstickers], WOK. Not sure about the accuracy here. I googled potsticker recipes and nearly everyone seems to be using flat-bottom sauté pans rather than woks. Even Martin Yan is using a flat pan in a commercial video. Are potstickers traditionally fried/steamed in woks or flat pans, people?
  • 83a. [John for whom the Voting Rights Advancement Act was named], LEWIS. Yes indeed, I’d like to see this bill passed in the House and Senate and signed into law. When the Supremes eviscerated the VRA, they opened the floodgates to all sorts of voter suppression tactics and various state legislatures are trying all manner of new methods to prevent voting.
  • 77d. [The lake in “lake effect” snow], ERIE. This is so bizarre! Why on earth do the NYT’s crossword editors think Lake Erie is the only thing generating lake-effect snow? All of the Great Lakes do. While Lake Michigan’s lake-effect snow mostly lands to the south and east of the lake (Indiana and Michigan), a shift in the winds can certainly dump lake-effect snow on Chicago—and in fact, that’s what happened a couple times this month. The clue could faintly pass muster without “the” at the start (and with “in” changed to “with”), but as is? Nope.
  • 54a. [Graduation wear for a University of Hawaii student], LEI. Fresh angle for LEI cluing!
  • 69d. [Big name in windshield wipers], RAIN-X. I didn’t know this one at all, except maybe I did? Wipers X out the rain, so it’s definitely gettable.

4.5 stars from me. It’s a treat to actually enjoy a Sunday puzzle.

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Subtext” – Jim Q’s Write-up

Meta for the last day in February!

Washington Post, February 28, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Subtext” solution grid

THEME: Something to do with books and authors…


  • 23A [Perform excellently (Malinda Lo)] PUT ON A SHOW. 
  • 25A [Univ. students focusing on chemistry and computer programming, say (Jane Austen)] STEM MAJORS. 
  • 61A [What Michael Caine was awarded in 2000 (Elie Wiesel)] KNIGHTHOOD. 
  • 63A [Bike part with a fruit in its name (Émile Zola)] BANANA SEAT. 
  • 101A [Baja California, e.g. (Toni Morrison)] PENINSULA
  • 113A [Subtext] UNDERLYING MESSAGE. 

Oddly enough, I figured out the meta before starting the puzzle. The title gave it away for me: I knew I’d be looking for letters underneath whatever was to be hidden in the theme answers. In this case, book titles. Each of the authors noted in the theme clues has a notable book hidden in a common phrase.

They are:

Malinda Lo = ASH

Jane Austen = EMMA

Elie Wiesel = NIGHT

Émile Zola  – NANA

Toni Morrison = SULA

If you look at the letters underneath each of those titles, you will have cracked the meta.

They are:






Of course, parsed correctly, that’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, the Clancy novel about a submarine. How apt!

I liked the idea for this and the resulting meta, but I struggled with the fill much more than I usually do. My snags include OBERGEFELL (needed every cross), Sheck WES, CALEB McLaughlin, ANNA Friel, and STU Phillips in the names department. I see now that it’s not that many. I don’t know why it felt like there were so many more mid-solve. SHUNT, PUPA, ANOMIE, WONKCINCY and PENTE were other areas where I faltered, particularly those last two as I entered NERO instead of PYRO for the clue [Villain of the X-Men who plays with fire]. I don’t know X-Men all that well, and NERO seemed to fit the bill just fine! That made CINCE look like a justifiable nickname for Cincinnati, and NENTE was easily ignored over the correct PENTE.

Also, I was unfamiliar with the texts ASH and NANA. Ironically, I used the Meta answer to figure out those parts of the theme.

I think that cracking the meta so early took a bit of the enjoyment out of the puzzle for me. There wasn’t a growing sense of mystery, and it lacked the AHA moment that I love so much. But I suppose that’s a risk of constructing metas. Solvers are bound to have their AHA moments (or lack thereof) at very different times. That’s okay though. I get excited for them no matter what. So although this one didn’t land as solidly (for me) as have others in the past, it’s still a fine puzzle with a clever execution.



Matthew Stock’s Universal crossword, “BB-8” — Jim Q’s write-up

Does the title BB-8 refer to something I’m unfamiliar with? [Googles] Ah! It looks like it’s a Star Wars character. I’m guessing that I’m unfamiliar with that one since BB-8 isn’t a crossword friendly name. I have yet to see any of the films in the franchise. It’s on my list though!

THEME: Eight two-word phrases where both words begin with the letter B.

Universal crossword solution · “BB-8” · Matthew Stock · Sun., 2.28.21


  1. BAA BAA
  5. BIG BAT

That’s a lot of theme! Which probably accounts for the unusual symmetry of the grid. I thought something felt off during the solve, like the themers didn’t seem to have a consistent placement pattern in the grid, but I figured I’d look more closely post-solve. Weird, eh? I’m not sure there’s any symmetry at all! Though it looks like there is at first glance.

Anyway, a fine solve. I discovered that perhaps I don’t massage my KALE enough, and that’s why I don’t enjoy it.

I was unfamiliar with RAGLAN and BIORE. The RAGLAN/KAVA cross was tricky and I accepted DEFERS as the answer over REFERS. BIODE looked better to me than BIORE. So I had to try a few things when Mr. Happy Pencil didn’t show up.

No real complaints though!

3.5 stars.

Daniel Mauer’s Universal Sunday crossword, “No Comment”—Jim P’s review

This puzzle is DODGING THE PRESS (117a, [Avoiding journalists’ questions, or what each starred answer is doing?]), but it’s a little tricky to explain. The answers to the theme clues are in the circled squares, and they bend downward at a certain point. The reason for this is because the rest of the numbered entry is a news medium, and the answer is “avoiding” it. The entire numbered entry, including the news medium, comprises its own well-known (though unclued) phrase.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “No Comment” · Daniel Mauer · 2.28.21

  • 23a. [*Educated] SCHOOLED with SCHOOL NEWSPAPER and IDLED.
  • 46a. [*Infringe on a copyright, say] BREAK THE LAW with BREAK THE INTERNET and PRE-LAW. I had trouble thinking of Internet as a news medium like the others, but there are certainly news organizations that produce content solely for the Internet, so I’m cool with it. It is unfortunate that LAW has the same meaning in both the answer phrase and one of the component phrases, but that’s a nit.
  • 60a. [*___ vice president] MADAM with MAD MAGAZINE and EDAM. I doubt this puzzle was written after 1.20.21, given the time it takes to get through the editing process, but I like how the clue was given a fresh angle.
  • 77a. [*Certain athlete] SPORTSMAN with SPORTS RADIO and RAISMAN. It’s nice that an entry ending -SMAN is not about a man, but a gold-medalist and Arthur Ashe Courage Award-winning gymnast, who we more commonly see by just her first name (Aly).
  • 91a. [*Widespread attention] PUBLICITY with PUBLIC TELEVISION and CITY.

This theme was tough to suss out during the solve, and it must have been a bear to construct. The net effect is a good one, though it took a while to piece together.

Fill highlights: ACADEMIA clued with [“My Hero ___” (anime series)]. I’ve seen this title around, though I’ve never watched a second of the show. Also, fully-named ANAÏS NIN, AGUILERA, LUCIFER, SEALIFE, the BEE GEES, a POP TART, a VACCINE, “WOE IS ME,” and a dramatic “OR IS IT?” Nothing set off the scowl-o-meter that I recall, which is tough to do in a Sunday-sized grid. Well done.

Clues of note:

  • 63a. [“Hold your horses, horse!”]. WHOA. I must have gotten this with just the crosses, as I’m only seeing it for the first time now. Worth a chuckle.
  • 83a. [Much-hated synonym for “damp”]. MOIST. Yeah? Well, there are occasions when no other word will do. Who would want to eat a damp cake?

Tricky, but solid puzzle. 3.75 stars.

Mark McClain’s LA Times crossword, “Start the Music” – Jenni’s write-up

Each theme entry is a phrase containing a music genre.

  • 15d [Start celebrating] is POP THE CORK.
  • 26a [Summer cottage, perhaps] is a COUNTRY RETREAT.
  • 48a [Prior conviction, e.g.] is a RAP SHEET ENTRY. Extensive viewing of “Law&Order” makes me an expert on such terms, and I raise my eyebrow at this one.
  • 46a [Iberian landmark that’s an insurance company logo] is the ROCK OF GIBRALTAR. Plopped that one in without any crossings, which in my mind is too easy for a Sunday theme entry.
  • 70d [Topping for chicken enchiladas] is SALSA VERDE.
  • 84a [Personal exam?] is SOULSEARCHING.
  • 108a [Commonsense approach to behavior analysis] is FOLK PSYCHOLOGY. I raised my eyebrow at this, too, but the Google Ngram viewer tells me it’s much more widely used than “pop psychology,” so I put my eyebrow back down.

It’s a perfectly fine theme. The only theme entry I enjoyed was 84a, which is a cute clue. Maybe someday we’ll get a wordplay theme again. Maybe.

A few other things:

  • If you haven’t heard ARLO‘s recording of “The Motorcycle Song,” you’ve missed one of the great rhymes in FOLK music.
  • 36a [Lake south of London] is ERIE. London, Ontario, Canada.
  • BMI is not a [Fitness ratio]. It was developed as a tool to analyze populations by someone with racist intent and was never intended to be used for individual health measurements. It certainly doesn’t tell you anything about your level of fitness. Body fat percentage, maybe. BMI may roughly correlate with body fat percentage – key word is “roughly” – but in and of itself it is not a useful measurement of fitness.
  • 55a [Pitchers that can’t throw?] is a fun clue for EWERS. Also: spring training games start tomorrow!

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Bonnie RAITT has won 10 Grammy awards. Here’s one of the songs:

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26 Responses to Sunday, February 28, 2021

  1. Ethan says:

    Well Lake ERIE is the only lake that produces lake effect snow in NY state so maybe that’s what the editors were familiar with?

    Maybe it’s also just that to those of us who’ve never lived near the Great Lakes, it’s Buffalo that’s most famous for the phenomenon that of course is off of Erie. I don’t know.

    However this was a fantastic Sunday NYT

    • Melissa says:

      Nope! I live in the Lake Ontario snowbelt. While Buffalo and Lake Erie may get more press, in many years the lake effect off Erie shuts down when the lake freezes. Ontario is deeper and doesn’t freeze, so it keeps going all winter long! There are towns in the area that average 200 to 300 inches of snow each year, thanks to lake effect snow from Ontario.

  2. BryanF says:

    NYT: I did the Santa Speedo Run in Annapolis for several years. It was 1 mile-ish (or however long the lead organizer decided to run that morning as he led everyone around the town center). The key to them is that they start and end at a pub. So there isn’t any waiting around outside: you just put your drink down, go run, and come back to your drink! :) And yes, the ladies wore Santa festive sports bras.

  3. ktd says:

    Back-to-back 21×21 puzzles by Brad Wiegmann – yesterday’s WSJ (debut) and today’s NYT. That’s a weekend to remember!

    After solving the NYT, I read the theme answers to my wife and we both had a good laugh. Fun puzzle, Brad!

  4. RCB says:

    Lake Ontario puts out more that a little lake effect snow in Western New York.

  5. davey says:

    NYT: can anyone explain “Polo course?” for EAST? thanks

  6. David L says:

    On this occasion, I’m more inclined to agree with Rex P about the NYT. I thought it was silly and juvenile — jokes about bare bums, hur hur — and the rest of the fill was unremarkable, to say the least.

    • David Steere says:

      NYT: I agree with you (and Rex). I found this Times puzzle incredibly boring and not amusing in the slightest. I do wonder about the relatively high ratings here for this puzzle and the surprisingly low ones for Evan’s beautiful meta.


  7. Matthew S. says:

    Universal constructor here! The grid *does* have symmetry along the NW/SE diagonal axis. Every black square has a mirrored partner across that diagonal, and themers are in symmetrical positions as well. Was the best way to accommodate all eight (and without adding any superfluous Bs to the grid :) )

  8. MattF says:

    I also stumbled over the clue for WOK— potstickers are usually steamed or (sometimes) fried, but not in a wok. Otherwise, a nice puzzle.

    • marciem says:

      I was pretty sure that the potstickers clue was only to hint that the answer was a Chinese cooking vessel (and to avoid the ho-hum usual clue of “stir fry”). At least that’s all I could reason, being an avid potsticker fan and never using a wok to cook them :) .

  9. Steve says:

    WSJ: More difficult as usual, but not sure why looking back at the finished puzzle. I have never read any of those authors (even the final one) so figured I would never get the meta even though I did jot down all the words underneath the appropriate answers thinking it had something to do with those. Oh well, no biggie.

  10. Jenni Levy says:

    I figured out the WaPo meta! All on my own! I’m VERY proud of myself! This probably means it was on the easy side, because I am not good at metas.

    Add me to the “WTF?” crew for the Lake Erie clue. I learned about lake effect snow from my husband when we visited his hometown outside Rochester, NY. On Lake Ontario. Where they get quite a bit of lake effect snow. From Lake Ontario.

    • KarenS says:

      I got the meta too! I was thrilled. I can usually get a week one Matt Gaffney meta and rarely a week two. The rest of the month–no way.

      Evan, thank you for including Obergefell!

    • David Steere says:

      WaPo: I agree entirely, Jenni. I don’t enjoy meta puzzles and rarely do them for that reason. But, this easy one by Evan was delightful!

    • BryanF says:

      WaPo: I figured out the meta having to look up 4 of the 5 referenced authors (I noticed Emma in the Jane Austen clue, so I knew what the “trick” was), but I was unfamiliar with the other works. Though understanding the hint of “Underlying Message” and the puzzle title, it only took “The Hunt For….” to figure out the meta. Shows you what kind of fiction I tend toward. :P

      And it’s a minor quibble, but I would love to see it defined as “marriage equality” instead of “same-sex marriage” because the latter shouldn’t be distinguished any different than “opposite-sex marriage”. Eventually, I can hope it’s all just defined as “marriage”.

  11. PJ says:

    LAT – That’s a good Bonnie Raitt video. Here’s one of my favorites from 1974:

    It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since we lost John Prine.

  12. Dan says:

    I’ve been doing the WaPo Sunday puzzle for about two months, and just considering the clues and their answers, I’m finding them to have little or no panache. Which as a longtime solver of NYT crosswords I’m finding rather disappointing.

  13. Me says:

    NYT: Agree that calling ERIE “the” lake for lake-effect snow is baffling. Also, a traditional WOK is not ideal for cooking potstickers. The whole idea about pan-frying potstickers is to let them sit to build that crispy crust. A traditional wok has a curved bottom and would not be the best type of pan for making potstickers. But I think that they were historically made in a traditional wok, although a flat-bottomed pan is better.

    Really liked the WaPo meta today. I didn’t know all the novels but the title being “subtext” and the UNDERLYINGMESSAGE led me to the right place. I also like that THEHUNTFORREDOCTOBER is a text about a submarine: a sub text! That was fantastic! My one tiny quibble is that, even though people say “PIN number” all the time, PIN stands for Personal Identification Number, and it might have been better to have avoided having “no.” for number in the clue. But that’s a very minor point in a great puzzle!

    • Pilgrim says:

      Not only that, when you’re solving the meta you are literally “hunting” for the “sub” “text.”

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