Sunday, March 7, 2021

LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 8:10 (Amy) 


Universal 6:12 (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:18 (Jim P) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Celeste Watts & Jeff Chen’s’s New York Times crossword, “Take Two”—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 7 21, “Take Two”

“Take two” letters from the phrases in the clue, pronounce them, do a little mental juggling, and there’s your theme answer:

  • 23a. [ILLUS_RA_ORS], STRIPTEASE ARTISTS. Strip the T’s from illustrators, who are ARTISTS.
  • 39a. [ACC_L_RATOR], EASE OFF THE GAS PEDAL. Take those E’s off the accelerator.
  • 49a. [LUXUR_ _ACHT], UNWISE INVESTMENT. It could be a wise (Y’s) investment if you’re renting space on the yacht, as opposed to earning no money from a pleasure craft.
  • 66a. [ENDANGER_EN_], NO EMPTY THREAT. A “no MT” threat. The first themer that doesn’t play with a plural of the same letter, and the rest follow suit.
  • 85a. [CONFIG_ _ATION], YOU ARE OUT OF ORDER. At first, I thought this might be the very rude YOU ARE {UR} OUT OF SHAPE. I think configuration could go either way, but the judge’s judgment is more of a thing than “you are out of shape.”
  • 93a. [POI_T OF _IEW], UNENVIABLE POSITION. Your position is un-N.V.’ed.
  • 113a. [_OTIC_], WITHOUT ANY WARNING. Without NE, notice.

Lovely theme. A pleasure to unravel the various theme answers and make sense out of it all.

Fave fill: BEA ARTHUR, OATMEAL, SNEAK PEEK, BLEARY, the ENTERTAIN-INVITEE series that reminds us of pre- and post-pandemic possibilities, DEAR SANTA, ZESTERS (you ever use your zester to get spreadable curls of cold, hard butter?), “I CAN’T GO ON,” VINE-RIPEN (mmm, summer tomato season is just a few months off), THE WIZ. Not keen on bits like PETER I, WRIEST, STN, and MT IDA, but they were the exceptions in a smoothly filled grid.

  • Three more things:
  • 19d. [Item said to have been burned in protest, once], BRA. The comedian Kev on Stage has a solid take on bras.
  • 60a. [Post production?], CEREALS. The clue pretends to be about filmmaking, but instead, it’s breakfast. Alpha-Bits is the only Post cereal I like. More of a General Mills (Cheerios!) and Kellogg person.
  • 54d. [Org. that takes the lead on lead?], EPA. My shoulders dropped, relaxed. It’s nice to have the EPA in the hands of an administration that doesn’t seek primarily to defend polluters. Four long years of depressingly inapt EPA clues, we had!

4.25 stars from me.

Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword, “Outer Limits” – Jenni’s write-up

I had no idea what was going on with this theme and was about to pop a grid up here and let you tell me. Then I remembered there was a title. The circles in each theme answer spell a word that follows “outer.” The theme answers themselves are clued straight.

Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2021, Paul Coulter, “Outer Limits,” solution grid

  • 22a [It’s “gravy” to some Italian Americans] is SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Outer space.
  • 41a [“Melrose Place” complex] is a GARDEN APARTMENT. Outer garment.
  • 48a [Venus, at times] is the EVENING STAR. Outer ear.
  • 68a [Real estate listing datum] is the OFFERING PRICE. Outer office. Isn’t the price in the listing the list price?
  • 85a [Grade school presentation] is SHOW AND TELL. Outer shell. I think that’s redundant.
  • 95a [Favor asker’s lead-in] is WOULD YOU BE A DEAR. Outer wear.
  • 116a [America’s most popular dogs in 2017] are BALLPARK FRANKS. Outer Banks. That also serves as what I didn’t know before I did this puzzle because I have to run!

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

Another meta?!?! Woo hoo! Let’s dive in!

The note for this one says “Film starring Richard Gere” is the clue for a movie that has the same pattern as the stared answers. What is it?

Well, it has to be Pretty Woman, right? For sure. But let’s try to solve it organically anyway.

Washington Post, March 7, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Holding Pattern” solution grid

THEME: No idea… yet.

THEME ANSWERS: The starred clue/answer set are clearly the themers, and they are:

  • 23A [*Band with the album “If You’re Feeling Sinister”] BELLE AND SEBASTIAN. 
  • 47A [*Coin depicting Simón Bolívar] COLOMBIAN PESO. 
  • 70A [*Beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch] BUDWEISER. 
  • 94A [*Tree found in countries below the equator] SOUTHERN BEECH. 
  • 120A [*Singer who won a Grammy for “Beautiful”] CHRISTINA AGUILERA. 
  • 53D [*Color that Johannes Vermeer frequently used in his paintings] CORNFLOWER BLUE. 
  • 16D [*Wine made from one of the four “noble” grapes in Alsace’s grand cru vineyards] GEWURZTRAMINER. 

Here’s what I initially noticed that these themers have in common with one another: Absolutely nothing.

There’s a curious little clue in the SE corner of the puzzle that is kind enough to nudge the solver in the right direction, however. 131A says [Leading … and like the words in this puzzle’s starred clues that will help you solve the meta]. It’s clear as a bell now, but I was having a little too much difficulty interpreting the clue when I initially read it, and I was too eager to go down rabbit holes. So I just went with “firsts” in general.

Was CHRISTINA AGUILERA‘s first Grammy for Beautiful? Was CORNFLOWER BLUE the first color Vermeer used in a painting? Was If You’re Feeling Sinister BELLE AND SEBASTIAN‘s first album? No. But I did learn a lot about Vermeer’s penchant for exotic and expensive paints that left his family in debt, and I’m currently listening to the very pleasant second album of BELLE AND SEBASTIAN,  If You’re Feeling Sinister. Never heard of this group. I dig.

Then I had a phony AHA moment when I isolated the first words of each of the clues: Band, Coin, Beer, Tree, Singer, Color, and Wine. Anyone else notice the Singer right next to CHRISTINA AGUILERA? ALTO! Seems like a very Birnholzian direction to go in when it comes to metas. And look at that… ELM is in the grid which is a Tree! And RED LABEL kinda works with Color, right? OSCAR is an entry in the puzzle! That goes with Film… in a sense… from the clue mentioned in the meta note! Erm… how ’bout Band? GEMs are Banded perhaps? Or a LEI is a Band of sorts? That’s it. It has to be LEI.

It’s funny what you can convince yourself of when you are ass-deep in a rabbit hole.

It’s also funny how easy it is to throw out past meta solving experience, where I have learned to stay focused on what you know to be true. And here’s what we know for certain:

  1. The first word of each clue has something to do with the meta.
  2. There is a pattern in the theme answers.
  3. The clue/answer pattern match the clue and answer for “Film starring Richard Gere.”

As soon as I took this step back, the answer was almost immediately apparent. Why does that clue have to start with the word “Film”? Why not… “Movie,” say? Or why not the year of the film’s release first, as is very typical in a crossword clue?

In fact, the starred clues all start with very basic words, most of which are four letters. So I focused on BUDWEISER, because it was the shortest of all the entries and I thought I would be most likely to discover a pattern there. Sure enough… Beer in the clue and BUDWEISER have something in common. The word Beer can be found in BUDWEISER. Can Singer be found in CHRISTINA AGUILERA? Sure can. And it’s all downhill from there. Here’s the complete list and a clearer solution grid (courtesy of Evan):








Now, we only have to look up Richard Gere Films and find one that fits the same pattern. It sticks out like a sore thumb. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN is the answer. Oddly enough, Primal Fear (love that movie!) has the correct letters to be the answer too, just not in the correct order :)

Really enjoyed this meta. It was much more difficult for me than last week’s. I spent about half an hour on this one.

There are indeed the “I-Hate-Meta” solvers, but I think metas are easy to hate when you don’t get the answer. Or when you are essentially being forced to complete two puzzles when you were only looking forward to one. When you don’t get the answer, it can cause anxiety to “solve” the puzzle,  and still not really have solved the puzzle. That is completely understandable. However, remember how frustrating it was when you solved your first few crosswords and you had to wade through some obscurities and a lot of Crosswordese? You can build your Meta-Muscles just like you built your Crosswordese vocabulary! And when constructed right, like this one and last week’s, the AHA clicks that come with them are intensely satisfying. There’s a reason why Matt Gaffney’s weekly meta puzzles are so celebrated on this site. And even when you can’t figure it out, it can be very satisfying to see where your missteps were. I really hope solvers who are easily off-put by metas can find a way to enjoy them eventually.

Also, Amy posted this note at the top of the blog yesterday, which seems to be asking for a copy/paste here:

We see a lot of comments along the lines of “I can’t do metas,” and last Sunday’s Washington Post crossword had an easier-than-usual meta that solvers were happy to have cracked. If you want to try a different sort of meta, the WaPo is currently testing out a Mini Meta puzzle format from Pete Muller and Andrew White. (1) Solve the mini crosswords from Monday through Friday. (2) Take one word from each of those grids, in order, for a five-word clue. (3) Solve the Saturday mini and then find the answer (a word or phrase of 5+ letters) by zigzagging up/down/left/right in the Saturday grid. The Post is seeking your feedback on the Mini Meta during this three-month testing period.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Parting Thoughts”—Jim P’s review

When solving this puzzle, you’ll notice the clues for the theme answers are written in a particular way: in all caps and with a space somewhere between the letters of the single-word clues.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Parting Thoughts” · Samuel A. Donaldson · 3.7.21

  • 70a. [BA NK] WIN BIG
  • 75a. [NE WS] REPORT
  • 107a. [L AW] COMMIT A CRIME

The revealer is at 123a: THEM’S THE BREAKS [“Life is hard,” and a hint to interpreting this puzzle’s clues in all caps]. “Break” is the keyword here, and each theme answer is a word or phrase synonymous with “break the {clue}”.

I enjoyed this theme. I didn’t need the revealer to suss it out, but it made for a nice confirmation. I was thrown a little by the short theme answers in the middle, but not for very long and they add to the mix. I also appreciate that for the most part, each answer phrase is a colloquial saying itself (except maybe DO THINGS IN A NEW WAY).

The grid is also chock full of high quality fill to enjoy as well: WEEKLY PAPER, TECUMSEH, SOMALIA, ANTS ON A LOG, DOCTOR DOOM, SEA SNAKE, STATE MAP, GAS ADDITIVE, VIENNESE, EASY AS PIE, and “HERE’S A TIP.”

Clues of note:

  • 57a. [Smallest party size]. ONE. Reminds me of the Amy Adams/Miss Piggy duet “Me Party” from The Muppets. Remember, what happens at a Me Party stays at a Me Partay (ay ay).
  • 100a. [Odorless home hazard]. RADON. Today I learned RADON causes lung cancer and doesn’t come from an appliance or other fixture in the home, but from a naturally-occurring breakdown of uranium in the earth. It can be found all over the U.S. and get into any building (though newer ones can have radon-resistant features). Test kits are relatively inexpensive and can be found at local hardware stores and online retailers. Read more here.
  • 105a. [Oklahoma’s resembles a saucepan]. STATE MAP. Hey! I just got a puzzle published (along with Alex Eaton-Salners) that’s in the shape of the STATE MAP (actually Island Map) of Guam, which is shaped somewhat like a footprint. You can check it out here.
  • 96d. [Spot for a vaccine]. ARM. Apparently there is a Russian disinformation campaign to sow seeds of doubt about the safety of Pfizer and other Western-made vaccines. Effing Putin.
  • 101d. [Prefix with “laryngologist”]. OTO. “Otolaryngologist” has got to be my favorite doctor title to speak aloud. “Gastroenterologist” is pretty fun, too.
  • 109d. [Lauren of “The Walking Dead”]. COHAN. She plays Maggie on the show, and her slight southern accent belies the fact that she’s British.

That was a fun puzzle all around. 4.25 stars.

Gary Cee’s’ Universal crossword, “Somewhat Inclined” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Common phrases that end with a steep geographic formation.

Universal crossword solution · “Somewhat Inclined” · Gary Cee · Sun., 3.7.21


  • (revealer) A BIT STEEP

Perfectly fine set today. Not too much else to add to that!

Favorite mistake was TEE BALL for TEE TIME [When some start swinging]. Both work, right?

Other than that, this one fell right over the plate. No complaints at all, but I don’t see it lingering around in long term memory :)

3 stars.



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12 Responses to Sunday, March 7, 2021

  1. Ethan says:

    NYT: I liked it generally, but I didn’t like that VIEWED was in the grid after 93A used POINT OF VIEW in the clue.

  2. Steve says:

    NYT: I agree with the reviews I read, but was surprised that no one mentioned that the first three themers removed two of the same letter, and when I got to the fourth where the removed letters were different, I felt that the expectation of all of them removing the same two was dashed – and a bit of a let down. Maybe leading off with the first two themers being different (one removing the same and one removing two different ones) might have avoided that.
    But that’s a super minor complaint for what was an engaging and fun puzzle, and I’m probably just picking a 119D!

    • pannonica says:

      “The first themer that doesn’t play with a plural of the same letter, and the rest follow suit.”

    • JohnH says:

      I, too, noticed first the two with the same letter dropped, and it seemed extra clever that way in enhancing the puzzle’s title. Take two, as in 2 E’s or 2 T’s! But I didn’t consider that a flaw.

      In maybe a more ambitious puzzle, starting out with an apparent pattern might even be clever misleading. But here it wasn’t even that, as you don’t have to work to deduce which letters are dropped. The work comes in translating the obvious into theme answers. Besides, I don’t always or even most often work from top to bottom. Some harder puzzles won’t allow it.

      I’m not a huge Chen fan. While it’s nice he now only assists others, he leaves his signature in a puzzle’s tone, which often to me feels flat. But this was a fun one, even with lots of routine fill.

  3. David L says:

    I got nowhere at all with the WaPo meta. There seemed to be so many hints in the wrong direction. Other colors and singers and trees in the grid. Also beers: BASS in BASSET, ALE in ALERTS. The first three letters of SOUTHERNBEECH are SOU, which is a coin, and right under SOU is ELM, which is a tree. That must mean something, right?

    I interpreted the title, Holding Pattern, to mean that the theme answers must contain other words, but I was looking for whole words, not scattered letters, and since I couldn’t find anything in BUDWEISER I gave up on that idea.

    Now that I see the answer, it’s easy enough, but I just couldn’t get a toehold. So, yeah, frustrating.

  4. Steve H says:

    WaPo: I wouldn’t have figured that out if I looked at it for a couple hours every day for a year. I even wrote down the first words of each clue and looked up his movies, figuring it would be one of the most known ones. Seeing the answer was super frustrating to me and made me wish I hadn’t even tried.

    I’d love metas to be rated so if I see something as challenging I won’t waste too much time on it.

    Nitpick: I thought some of the quote marked clues were asterisks as first, had to take off the glasses and look closer. The puzzle prints smaller than I like. But that’s most likely a me problem haha.

    • I always include a note above the puzzle telling people if there’s a meta, so if metas are not your jam, just solve them as you would a themeless puzzle and leave it at that.

      Alternatively, maybe don’t dismiss metas out of hand just because you find them to be difficult? It is possible to improve on them with practice, like Jim said.

      • Steve H says:

        Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to come across as harsh. I do like metas, but not ones that would be considered difficult. Those are too frustrating to me not being able to get it or even know where to start.

        I’ve done many metas and have purchased books that are all metas. Some, like today, I would never get even with practice. That is what frustrates me, not the actual meta itself.

        I still enjoyed the puzzle today and I what I meant was I’d like to know what the author thinks the meta difficulty is. I’d still do the puzzle and may give the meta a cursory glance if it’s labeled challenging but I wouldn’t spend too much time on the meta.

        I hope that makes more sense and sorry that I didn’t explain myself better.

        • Thank you, I appreciate that.

          I understand the frustration of struggling on a tough meta. I knew this one would be harder than last week’s; if last week’s was like a MGWCC Week 1, this one was probably a Week 3 at least. I’ve been hesitant to explicitly label the difficulty of my metas, though, because if I labeled one as “Easy” and a solver still didn’t figure it out, I’d be worried about turning them off from metas altogether.

          And again, I would disagree with the idea that “Some, like today, I would never get even with practice.” Several years ago when I started out solving metas, I could maybe solve a MGWCC Week 2 and nothing beyond that. It took me maybe two or three years of trying (and often failing) at tough metas every week before I finally felt I got the hang of them. Practice really does work and you shouldn’t sell yourself short, so here are a few things I’d recommend:

          1) Try working on them with friends or family members. Sometimes putting together two or more heads on a meta can unlock things that you wouldn’t have considered.

          2) Just like you did with today’s puzzle, write down answers and clues and words that you think might be key to solving it. Writing down those key words next to specific theme answers (like writing “Band” next to BELLE AND SEBASTIAN and “Beer” next to BUDWEISER) might help you spot a relevant pattern. Even writing down half-baked ideas for how the meta might work can be helpful.

          3) There’s a forum where you can reach out to other solvers if you’re struggling on a tough meta, and I’m sure they’d be happy to co-solve or give you hints if you need them.

          • Steve H says:


            Thanks for the tips and encouragement, appreciate it. Love your Sunday puzzles in any case!

  5. Dan says:

    I figured the meta out fairly easily, but the solution lacked that A-HA moment that gave me the confidence that I got it right. Evan’s metas are most often next-level puzzles that leave me in awe, this one was…fine? I felt there had to be another level I wasn’t seeing. I considered the title (always look at the title): was there some sort of HOLDING PATTERN in the puzzle itself that resembled airplanes flying in big circles? No, nothing there. Was there a deeper pattern than just the first clue word’s letters in the answer? Hmm, not that I could see, the hidden words didn’t have any consistency within the answers. And the meta’s solution: An Officer and a Gentleman. I sure wanted it to be INTERNAL AFFAIRS since there were words within words. But that wouldn’t have been consistent with the other starred clues.
    A perfectly good puzzle but I still felt I was missing something at the end.

  6. Lauri says:

    Re: Holding Pattern
    Wow, missed that meta. I went down my own rabbit hole when I noticed a physical pattern in the starred across answers: over 3 down 4, over 3 down 4, back 1 down 4, back 1 down 4 … seemed very much like a dance step. The first words of those clues also had a dance theme: band (as in The Band – Last Waltz), coin (quarter, as in 3/4 time? – maybe?), beer (tap), tree (swing), and singer (jazz – as in The Jazz Singer). Too much coincidence to not be on the right track, right? So the Richard Gere film has to be Shall We Dance.

    Somewhere along the way I forgot about the down answers, haha!

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