Sunday, March 21, 2021

LAT 7:51 (Jenni) 


NYT 8:35 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) 12:55 (Jim P) 


WaPo 13:16 (Jim Q) 


There’s just over a week left on Hayley Gold/Lone Shark Games’ Kickstarter for the crossword-laden graphic novel, Letters to Margaret! A whole bunch of stretch goals have already been hit, so there are lots of extras that will go to the backers. The next stretch goal is at $36,000 and it’ll add cartoon crosswords by Patrick Merrell, who is skilled in both puzzle-making and cartooning. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished book and playing with the extras later this year.—Amy

Julian Kwan’s New York Times crossword, “Mores”—Amy’s write-up

NYT • 3/21/21 • Sun • “Mores” • 0321 • Kwan • solution • 20210321

I enjoyed this one from start to finish, a real treat in a Sunday-sized puzzle. The title can be pronounced either “moors” or “morays,” and here we mean the latter. Each themer is made by adding a long A sound, spelled various ways, to the end of a familiar phrase:

  • 23a. [Nod off at a self-serve restaurant?], SLEEP IN THE BUFFET. Are buffets ever coming back, or has COVID rendered the germiness permanently unappealing?
  • 34a. [Fancy flooring for an R.V.?], TRAILER PARQUET.
  • 50a. [What the prestigious ice sculptor had?], COLD HARD CACHET. I forgive the puzzle for having ON ICE down at 125a.
  • 69a. [“Let everyone else get some steak before taking seconds!”], YOU’VE HAD  YOUR FILLET.
  • 88a. [“We should stall!”], LET’S MAKE A DELAY. This one doesn’t work for me. DEAL sounds more like “dee-uhl” and DELAY is “du-lay” (insert your own schwas).
  • 103a. [Why no one hangs out in actors’ dressing rooms these days?], BACKSTAGE PASSÉ.
  • 117a. [Bathroom fixture that one never asked for?], UNSOLICITED BIDET. You should ask for one! I guess an unsolicited bid is a thing in the trading world.

Fun theme.

Will be brief, as I want to take a Chicagohenge walk and get some neat sunset pictures, so I gotta head out in a minute.

  • 65a. [Back in the U.S.S.?], AFT. Love this clue!
  • 2d. [Mixed martial arts great Anderson], SILVA. Don’t know him or her.
  • 118d. [Food service industry lobby, for short], NRA. The National Restaurant Association! Yes. Let us make them super-familiar to all solvers by never mentioning the crooked, money-siphoning gun lobby again.
  • Fun fill: GOD SQUAD, “I OWE YA,” ALLEY-OOP.
  • 99d. [Bob hopes?], APPLES. Bobbing for apples crossed with Bob Hope, fun.

4.5 stars from me. Happy spring!

Gary Larson’s LA Times crossword, “Oh, That Changes Things!” – Jenni’s write-up

We’re having a warm, sunny weekend here in the Mid-Atlantic and wow, has the weather improved my mood! That plus some post-immunization socializing has me positively giddy. Giddy was a good place to start this puzzle and I shifted to giggly as I solved. The theme answers add “O” to a phrase. Definitely giggle material. I did not giggle about some of the fill. More on that later.

Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2021, Gary Larson, “Oh, That Changes Things!”, solution grid

  • 3d [On one’s own?] is LIVING SOLO. Living soul. I grokked the theme immediately, which made the puzzle significantly easier.
  • 25a [Sketching a famous emperor?] is DRAWING NERO. Drawing near.
  • 27a [Outdoor patio area for wings?] is a CHICKEN PATIO. Chicken patty. We made buffalo wings for our Valentine’s Day tapas dinner à deux. Mmm.
  • 48a [iPad, iPod, and iPhone?] are an APPLE TRIO. Apple tree.
  • 71a [Theme park beast, perhaps?] is an ARTIFICIAL HIPPO. Artificial hip. This is my favorite.
  • 80d [Spur-of-the-moment Tinder profile?] is an IMPULSE BIO. Impulse buy.
  • 97a [Intoxicated to the point where getting a tattoo sounds like a good idea?] is INK BLOTTO. Ink blot.
  • 121a [100 centavos?] are CHANGE OF PESO. Change of pace.
  • 123s [Twin peaks?] are a MOUNTAIN DUO. Mountain Dew.

All the base phrases are solid and the theme answers are funny. An easy, cheery Sunday theme.

The fill….I don’t usually notice grid layout, and that tight NW corner caught my eye, and not in a good way. Starting a puzzle with MOL at 1a is not pleasant. I’m sure younger/hipper/more-TV-aware solvers know her, and I guess EMIL Skoda from the late lamented Law&Order series gets us old folks to even the score. Combined with a shortened term for a Ford car line that stopped production in 2011 and a vague geography clue for OMAHA and you have a nasty section. Then there’s the dupe I’ve come to expect from the LAT: [Pricing word] at 21a and PRICE in the grid at 40d. I know some editors don’t care about dupes. This group apparently includes Rich Norris. Dupes bother me because I know the answer and discard it because it’s a duplicate. I still think this is a rule people follow. Guess I need to forget about that except for the editors and puzzlemakers who do follow that rule. Sigh. There’s more fill that raised my eyebrows and I don’t want to look at it again; I’d like to maintain my happy mood.

A few other things:

  • 28d [Clinton running mate] is KAINE. Hillary, not Bill.
  • 47d [One watching a shepherd, say] is a DOG SITTER. German shepherd. Great dogs.
  • 59d [Court arbiters] are REFS. Basketball, not law.
  • 74d is [J.R.R. Tolkien feature]. I have never read Lord of the Rings. Don’t @ me. I tried, I really did. So when LOTR/Tolkien content shows up in puzzles, I pretty much skip it and work from crossings. Not this one! The answer is PERIOD.
  • 100d [Son-of-a-gun] is a SOANDSO. Both of those tickled me.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: Gretchen Mol. I also didn’t know that TOM UDALL was a senator from New Mexico and I didn’t know that a woodlouse is an ISOPOD.


Jeffrey Wechsler’s Universal crossword, “Three Parts” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be found at the end of names/phrases

Universal crossword solution · “Three Parts” · Jeffrey Wechsler · Sun., 3.21.21



Very impressive to uncover the revealer stacked on itself down in the south. And it didn’t lead to yucky fill at all! A nifty theme, though I will confess that MERLE OBERON and ICE THE PUCK were both out of my wheelhouse. I’m guessing ICE THE PUCK is the same infraction as ICING?

Also, I was positive that the actress the clue was asking for in the clue for 17A was JESSICA ALBA because A) it fits and B) Isn’t she constantly in crosswords with that clue?! As it turns out, the article “The” in the clue makes a big difference. JESSICA ALBA is the star of the TV series Dark Angel, whereas MERLE OBERON is the star of the 1935 film, The Dark Angel. Interesting. I can’t be the only one out there who made that mistake, can I?

While we’re on OBERON, I spelled the last name OBERAN, and I entered ENE for 25A [Detroit-to-Cleveland dir.] instead of ESE because I never ever ever stop to consider the actual geography in those clues. I just guess. But that led to ELAINE (instead of the correct ELOISE) which looked 100% okay. When Mr. Happy Pencil didn’t show I spent twice as long looking for my mistake(s) than I did initially filling the grid.

Ah well. My stumbles didn’t really detract from the enjoyment I got out of the Midsummer’s Night Theme on the first days of spring :)

3.6 Stars

Becca Gorman & Matthew Stock’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Black Mirror”—Jim P’s review

I solved this without taking the time to grok the theme. If I had spared myself the few seconds to go back to the first two theme answers, I probably would have shaved some time off the bottom of the grid.

The grid has left-right symmetry instead of the normal diagonal symmetry because parts of our theme answers are “reflected” from left to right. That is, the final words of the theme answers on the left are the the first words (spelled in reverse) of the theme answers on the right.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Black Mirror” · Becca Gorman & Matthew Stock · 3.21.21

  • 22a [*Patterned pair’s place (hint: note this answer’s last word …)] and 24a [*Perk for a regular customer (… and this one’s first word)]
  • 46a [*Duke athlete] and 48a [*Hid one’s true self from the world]
  • 69a [*Duplicitous] and 71a [*Jitter-free drink]
  • 93a [*Unpleasant things to end on] and 96a [*Catholic college in New Jersey]
  • 116a [*Marvel villain who absorbs energy] and 118a [*”Colorful” Duke Ellington song]

Neat gimmick. It may seem a little odd that the “mirror” only reflects part of each theme answer, but that doesn’t really bother me so much, because trying to find fully-reflecting theme answers is most likely impossible—using in-the-language phrases, that is. You’d have invent theme answers—which has the potential to work—but that’s a whole other theme. (For example, one could do DECAF MOOD [Coffee-drinker’s nighttime feeling?] and DOOM-FACED [Like a person resigned to ruinous fate?] or some such.)


But I like this just fine, and in fact, it must have been a challenge to come up with a workable theme set given word-length constraints and getting everything to fit symmetrically.

I’m digging the fill, especially some of the fresher bits like AWKWAFINA [One-named “Crazy Rich Asians” actress] which is a great name and a great name for crosswords! Also good: LOCAL PUBS, SPARK PLUG, WIRETAP, CRAYOLA, MOSH PIT, and CEASE FIRE.

Clues of note:

  • 57d. [Rapinoe’s American squad, for short]. USWNT. I…didn’t know this, and would never have guessed that the initialism for the Women’s (and the men’s, for that matter) National soccer Team doesn’t have the word “soccer” in it.
  • 69d. [It may be tied … or under laces]. TONGUE. Tricky clue, but with its own aha moment.
  • 87d. [Deck shufflers?]. BOATERS. Hmm. I’m still not getting this one. Boat people shuffle on deck? Shuffleboard perhaps? Not sure. Help me out. (By the way, I’m guessing editor David Steinberg doesn’t mind clue/entry dupes since REGATTA and its clue [Boat race] are only two columns to the left.) The nautical theme continues at 95d with SAILORS singing sea shanties (not TikTokkers).

Good theme and a clean grid. Four stars.

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

A little break from the March Madness of metas and a wacky grid from the past few weeks.

THEME: Common phrases with university names hidden at the end, from which STUDENTs are far removed.

Washington Post, March 21, 2021, Evan Birnholz, “Distance Learning” solution grid


  • 23A [Animated arguments over the issues (Maine)] SPIRITED DEBATES.
  • 33A [Existing (New York)] TAKING UP SPACE.
  • 55A [Higher level (North Carolina)] UPPER ECHELON
  • 65A [“Not with you on that” (Oregon)] “DISAGREED!”
  • 80A [Actress who co-starred on the series “Let’s Stay Together” (New York)] ERICA HUBBARD
  • 98A [“Whatever the cost, I’ll pay that” (Texas)] NAME YOUR PRICE
  • 113A [Cherished recollection (Georgia)] TREASURED MEMORY


  • 53A [One who may be far from campus while distance-learning, spelled out in the first letters of this puzzle’s theme answers] STUDENT.

This is a very nice puzzle with excellent finds. Impressive, considering the constraints, that, for the most part, the universities are all quite well known (BATES was the only one unfamiliar to me) and the phrases in which they’re hidden are quite in-language (ERICA HUBBARD was unfamiliar to me, but that falls in line with Evan’s penchant for introducing not-so-familiar names into the grid).

Aside: Before I stray from the topic of new names being introduced in the WaPo puzzles, I find it to be a double-edged sword. I truly appreciate seeing fresh representation in Proper Noun World. However, because I rarely see them again once they’ve been introduced in a WaPo puzzle, their names don’t stick in my memory. And it can be a touch exhausting to come across so many unfamiliar names in a grid knowing that you’ll have to rely on the crosses. Of course, the crosses will be fair, but still, those hiccups can be grating. It would be nice to have a few of them pounded in my memory, which would also provide some  long lasting name recognition… like ERMA Bombeck say, whose columns I read because my curiosity was piqued after seeing her name so frequently in crosswords. So here’s to hoping we see SARA Gruen again (I read and loved Water for Elephants and couldn’t remember her name! For shame!), and perhaps it would be nice to see ALEXA Chung in the future. Or DELIA Owens. Or MAE Jemison. Or LYNN Rajskub. There were others that I stumbled on too, like CARL Reiner, but I know I’ve seen his name in crosswords before, and it is starting to stick despite his work not really being in my wheelhouse.

Well, I hope I didn’t open up any cans of worms there in the comments there. That wasn’t my intention. I certainly do appreciate more inclusive grids, and it is exciting to uncover one you may know that others likely do not… like EVA Cassidy for me not all that long ago. I would just like it if they stayed in my brain for more than a few fleeting moments.

Anyway, back to the puzzle.

The Birnholzian layer was intact here with STUDENT being spelled out, not just as a bonus, but in order to fully grok the theme of Distance Learning. And of course, the wink at the current state of education did not go unnoticed. School is an odd place to work right now, but what’s odder is how quickly we’ve adapted. I have to remind myself often that it’s not normal to be sitting at my desk with a bunch of inanimate Google icons staring back at me on a screen.

Favorite fill/clues included:

    • [Build something that can be cracked, say?] ENCODE
    • [Bath room?] LOO. The clue is referencing a room in Bath, England.
    • [Bamboo forest critters] PANDAS. PANDAS seem a little too large to be called “critters” but they certainly pass the critter cuteness test!
    • [Show somebody?] TV IDOL. “Show” being a noun.
    • [With “the,” slang description of one’s parents] OLDS. I’ve seen this clue/answer pair before. I’ve heard of OLD FOLKS, but not just The OLDS. That seems so weird and funny… Is it regional? Does anyone really say that?
    • [Forte for Agnes Martin, aptly contained in AGNES MARTIN] ART. Great clue, even though I was unfamiliar with her name.
    • [“Let’s kick some ___!” (pun from Mr. Freeze in “Batman & Robin”)] ICE. Ugh. Amazing that it exists. And once you here AHNOLD say it, it’s that much better.

Here it is:

I can’t imagine a better way to end a post than with that clip. Good day.



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26 Responses to Sunday, March 21, 2021

  1. Sorry about the delay in posting the Across Lite and PDF files for this weekend’s WaPo crossword. A transformer blew out on my block and everyone’s power is out until around 11 pm ET tonight (so I’m told), but hopefully the files will go up sooner than that. Thanks for your patience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Amy, I hope the constructor reads your review before the one Rex put up. It’s his first puzzle. For me, it was not as fun as it was for you, but my goodness the Rex review was far far too brutal. Welcome Julian. Don’t read reviews. And if you can’t help yourself, at least don’t take them to heart. This one was just fine. Well done.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      It’s not Julian’s first published puzzle—he had a couple LATs and a Universal in 2019. First NYT, and first Sunday-size, though.

    • Mr. Grumpy says:

      I thought the theme entries were rather drab — apart from COLD HARD CACHET and UNSOLICITED BIDET — and LET’S MAKE A DELAY was jarring as the only one with a different long A spelling [okay, I take that back, since I overlooked PASSE – meh]. I’m probably halfway between Rex and Anonymous on this one.

      • LtKije says:

        I’d say that BID and BIDET also have slightly different vowel sounds (bihd vs beeday). But in general, pretty smooth sailing.

    • David Steere says:

      I didn’t read Rex’s review as an attack on Julian but rather a lament/scold for the continuing mediocrity of Sunday Times puzzles. I have to agree. After doing another lovely Sunday puzzle from Evan late last night, I went to sleep in such a good mood. The Times puzzle today became such a dull slog after that high point. But, I just received a bonus Inkubator puzzle–a debut from Rachel Antell. Yay!!

  3. Michael says:

    After seeing this youtube piece on tipping, I don’t want to see either of the crooked, money-hungry NRAs in my puzzles. And welcome, Julian.

  4. David Steere says:

    WaPo: It is so nice when fairly common fill–i.e., the “secrets” hidden in the circled squares–are given new life when geographically placed in larger theme answers. Have I been long-winded enough to not give anything away? ;-) Who know there were so many familiar phrases where this lovely gimmick would work? Evan…that’s who! Another great puzzle.


  5. Rachel Fabi says:

    Amy, if you took any Chicagohenge photos you love, please post them!!!

  6. Frank says:

    LAT: The notes after FA are SOL and LA, unless you’re Julie Andrews.

    • marciem says:

      Yes, that irked me too. And even Julie (actually Oscar who wrote it) didn’t go to “so”, she had a needle pulling thread. :) .

      Not to mention, So and so was also in the grid.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      As an amateur singer with training in solfege, this is a pet peeve of mine with crosswords when it surfaces. Though I adore “The Sound of Music” and much of the rest of his work, it’s all Oscar Hammerstein’s fault. Thank goodness CrossWorld hasn’t taken to adopting his “far, a long, long way to go” as a substitute for fa! I wonder if Julie was ever bothered by being forced to sing those lyrics. Probably not. It’s such a fun song.

      • David L says:

        Funnily enough, I must have learned the scale from Julie Andrews singing that song, so I was surprised to learn at some point that it’s supposed to be ‘sol’ not ‘so.’

        And if you sing with a British accent, as Julie does, fa and far are identical.

        • marciem says:

          O.H. had a lot of fun with this song, and only one of the notes are how they are really spelled. We’ve got doe, ray, me, fa(r), sew, (la), tea and back to doe.

          He had a great way with lyrics.

          • sanfranman59 says:

            But at least the pronunciations are pretty much the same on all of them except for sol and fa.

  7. RM Camp says:

    NYT: iunno, I’ve heard “deal” pronounced as “dill” in certain dialects. It’s a bit of a stretch but it works for me.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      This is the problem I have with these “sounds-like” and “add-a-sound” themes. So much depends on the way one pronounces vowel sounds and that’s completely dependent upon one’s accent/dialect. The same goes for today’s LAT puzzle theme. As such themes go, I thought both were better than they often are.

  8. Philip Moscovitch says:

    NYT: I started off with UMP instead of REF, then went on to PLAGUE instead of FAMINE, so it took awhile to recover from that. Unsolicited bidet definitely my fave of the themers.

  9. R says:

    NYT: I know pronunciation themes aren’t everyone’s bag, but I love them, partly because they give interesting peeks into people’s dialects, like Amy’s “mores”/”moors” homophone and two syllable “deal” compared with RM Camp’s “dill.” I guess little differences are what makes them not work for everyone. “deal” -> “delay” doesn’t quite work for my accent either, but I hear plenty of people pronounce a non-schwa “ee” sound in “delay,” especially in more careful speech.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Jim P – I’m assuming “Boaters” in this instance refers to the shoes traditionally worn for boating, such as Sperry Topsiders. One would wear them while “shuffling” about on deck.

    • pannonica says:

      I’m pretty sure those are just called ‘boat shoes’. ‘Boater’ here must be referencing people who are boating, as it certainly isn’t about hats.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I guess so. But a “boater” is a kind of hat or a person on a boat, and my limited internet research shows that shoes worn on a boat are “boat shoes” or “deck shoes.” I’m going to conclude that the clue misses the mark.

  11. Martin says:

    A tree has taken out power in my area. I’ve got about an hour of reserve for the servers but after that there will be an interruption of puzzle access for Universal, WaPo and Jonesin. Hopefully a crew will be on it soon and it won’t be too long.

  12. David Steere says:

    Jim Q/WaPo: Jim, your “aside” is very interesting. I’ve said something similar to myself frequently about the rush of new names and references–often in the name of representativeness and equality. Fabulous reasons to expand the range of answers and make up for many years of male/white centrism. But, I never feel this way about Evan’s puzzles. I do the USA Today puzzle every day and there is often a torrent of new names which I worry I’ll not remember the next time I encounter them. Far more in Erik’s venue and in the New Yorker puzzles than in the WaPo. I wish my aging brain could retain some of this great new info.


  13. Jim Q:

    I can understand the momentary frustration of needing to rely on crossings and wanting to see some of those names clued more often in puzzles so you’ll remember them more easily. However, I don’t believe it’s entirely incumbent on me for those names to stick in your memory. If there’s a name you don’t recognize, take a moment to look them up after you’re done with the puzzle and maybe do a bullet point about them in your blog post. That will help you retain a lot more information about that person than you would have gotten from just the puzzle. It certainly can’t hurt. It sort of reminds me of how some solvers tell me that they get frustrated from having to figure out a rock song that they didn’t know, and I just say, maybe listen to the song after you finish the puzzle, because you never know — you might like it.

    In addition, I only write one puzzle a week, and even among the names you listed, even the most common crossword-friendly names (like MAE) still show up only a few times a year at most in my puzzles. Why not take the opportunity to reference people who don’t show up in the clues all the time? I don’t mind cluing MAE West and have done so many times, but I think it’s more important to do what I can to highlight people that you may not have seen in many puzzles before. MAE Jemison is more than fair game and figured you could still get her on crossings even if you don’t know her (and this wasn’t the first time I’ve clued Jemison before, for what it’s worth). I’ve never had DELIA in a grid until now; most clues for DELIA have referenced Delia Ephron, but I thought it’d be fun to pick someone different, one who wrote a book that has gotten a ton of attention recently. “Where the Crawdads Sing” has been a mega-best-selling book in the past couple of years.

    And like you said, the worst that happens from encountering an unfamiliar name is that you get slowed up a little. I think that’s worth it if it means including folks who hadn’t been in puzzles previously, to the extent that I can help make that happen.

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