Sunday, March 20, 2022

LAT 14:01(Gareth) 


NYT untimed (Nate) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim P) 


USA Today untimed (Darby) 


WaPo untimed (Jim Q) 


Brad Wiegmann’s New York Times crossword, “Exes & Nos”—Nate’s write-up

03.19.22 Sunday NYT Puzzle

03.19.22 Sunday NYT Puzzle

This week’s Sunday NYT puzzle is relatable content to anyone who’s had to kiss a lot of frogs before they find their royalty. But there’s a happy ending as a reward for solving the puzzle – let’s check it out!

  • 22A: HAD NO PRAYER [“It’s tough finding the right person. My first boyfriend was a perfectly nice atheist, but he…”]
  • 28A: DIDNT WORK OUT [“So then I dated a fun couch potato, but he…”]
  • 48A: CAME TO NOTHING [“Then my friend set me up with a recluse, but he…”]
  • 66A: LET ME DOWN [“I dated my rock climbing instructor for a while, but he just…”]
  • 80A: WOULD NEVER FLY [“Then I had a fling with a Pittsburgh Penguin, but I knew he…”]
  • 104A: MISSED THE CUT [“I was in a serious relationship with a hippie, but he…”]
  • 110A: DID THE TRICK [“Finally, I started seeing a charming magician, and he…”]

This might be the most matter-of-factly queer puzzle I’ve seen in ages, and I’m here for it! I know nothing about the constructor, but the fact that a male constructor is doing this schtick about a number of past failed “he”s did not go unnoticed by me, especially since he could (and the editing team!) could have easily had written every clue with respect to “she”s. None of the themers or their clues required the “Exes & Nos” to be of any particular gender. I know that some folks who worry about crosswords getting “too woke” are convinced that people like me won’t be happy until crosswords are quite literally the most flamboyant queer people of color, but this puzzle’s straightforward queerness is something I appreciate tremendously. It’ll stick with me for a while. I’m so grateful to the NYT team for publishing this puzzle. Bravo!

Other random thoughts:

  • 45A: TONGUE [One getting depressed during exams?] – This was cute!
  • 106A: OSHA [Org. issuing vaccine standards starting in 2021] – Relevant!
  • 74D: I MET [“How ___ Your Mother”] – This puzzle should have been called “How I Met Your Father” (or Guncle?).

That’s all from me for now. What did you like about the puzzle? Let us know in the comments section!

Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Rock Bottom”— Jim Q’s write-up

This puzzle is all about that bass.

THEME: Common phrases placed vertically in the puzzle with a one-word song title as the last word in each phrase.

Washington Post, March 20, 2022, Evan Birnholz, “Rock Bottom” solution grid


  • [Pretended not to know (Nirvana)] PLAYED DUMB.
  • [Ship that ran aground on Christmas Day (Blondie)] SANTA MARIA
  • [“Nighty-night!” (Fleetwood Mac)] SWEET DREAMS
  • [Smooched suddenly (Prince)] STOLE A KISS
  • [Turned out badly (Depeche Mode)] WENT WRONG
  • [“Watch out!” (George Harrison)] BEHIND YOU
  • [Public transportation stopping at docks (Harry Chapin)] WATER TAXI.
  • [“Might as well try” (Johnny Cash) IT CAN’T HURT
  • [Tutu’s homeland (Toto) SOUTH AFRICA
  • [“Man, you just feel bad for that guy” (Beck)] WHAT A LOSER


  • [Source of low notes … and, when read left to right, what’s spelled out by the bottom letters of 10 answers in this puzzle] BASS GUITAR
  • [Pieces of rock? … and what the last words of 10 answers in this puzzle represent] SONGS.

I really suck with song titles. And artists for that matter. Lyrics too. I just sort of hum along and join in when the chorus to YMCA comes back around. So there’s a lot of song titles I didn’t know here. I just assumed PLAYED DUMB, WENT WRONG, and SWEET DREAMS were the entire song titles. Then I got to IT CAN’T HURT and said to myself “Wait a second… pretty sure the title is just… ‘Hurt'” Bingo! As a side note, I do appreciate that that particular song title is ascribed to Johnny Cash and not the Nine Inch Nails. If I recall correctly, Trent Reznor said something along the lines of that song no longer belonging to him and the band once Johnny Cash’s cover version exploded in popularity. There. If I’m right, I just negated some of what I said in the first two sentences of this post. But that’s the extent of my rock band knowledge. I swear. That and Van Halen had a rider in their contract demanding a bowl of M&M’s in their dressing room with the brown ones removed.

Ok, I also knew LOSER, AFRICA, and TAXI, but that’s it. The entries where I had an inkling of what title might be at the bottom lent itself to a nice synergy with the rest of the clue.

Anyway, it’s a pretty excellent theme, and although I am well-versed in Birnholzian style, I didn’t see the added layer coming this time, where the (aptly utilized) bottom letter of each themer spelled BASS GUITAR. Since the central entry SONGS seemed to be a revealer of sorts, and it didn’t mention anything about stringing letters together, I never saw BASS GUITAR coming. Nice.

The theme and the construction is just so damn tight. To be expected, but never unimpressive.


Not too many new names for me… Robin HOBB, Is that it? Just one? That might be a new record.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever referred to an OK SIGN as an “OK sign,” but I don’t know what else you’d refer to it as.
  • [Wash. and Tex. both form part of it] US BORDER. I saw USB and thought it was some kind of computer clue. Needed every cross. Then saw USB ORDER before I say US BORDER. It’s funny how the brain works when it refuses to see the obvious once it has decided something far-fetched must be correct. (that’s a deeper thought than I intended it to be)
  • [Remark when getting a new lightbulb?] OH I SEE. [Insert eye roll here]
  • [It may enjoy an empty box more than a deluxe scratching post] CAT. Truth! It took me four years to discover that all I needed to do in order to get my cat to stop destroying the furniture and the moulding was to offer corrugated cardboard boxes. She could give two shits about scratching posts.
  • BABADOOK in the puzzle!

    [Cookie that may be dunked using a Dipr] OREO. I love OREO clues. There seems to be no end to the way they can be clued. But what’s a Dipr? (googles)……. i can’t believe that’s a thing that exists. On the same level as the thoroughly reviewed banana slicer on Amazon.

  • [Cheese that’s literally made up in this puzzle?] EDAM. If you read it from bottom to top it’s MADE going “up.” Clue of the year contender?

As always, thanks for this one, Evan!

Drew Schmenner’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Creative Writing”—Jim P’s review

Very little time to post today, so my apologies for the brief write-up.

Our theme is familiar phrases whose second words can all be synonyms for “a piece of writing.” Consistently, each first word also changes meaning.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Creative Writing” · Drew Schmenner · 3.20.22

  • 22a. [Writing about claiming lottery winnings?] REDEEMING FEATURE.
  • 32a. [Writing about a dot?] PERIOD PIECE.
  • 44a. [Writing about a land?] COUNTRY RECORD.
  • 57a. [Writing about a club’s get-together?] SOCIAL WORK.
  • 68a. [Writing about a word that makes people smile?] CHEESE LOG.
  • 77a. [Writing about a minor dispute?] SCRAP PAPER.
  • 93a. [Writing about Queen Elsa and Olaf?] FROZEN ACCOUNT.
  • 101a. [Writing about sororities and fraternities?] GREEK COLUMN.
  • 117a. [Writing about Kim Kardashian’s eldest?] NORTHWEST PASSAGE.

That works. Maybe I didn’t exactly laugh out loud at any of these, but it kept my interest throughout. I’m impressed at the amount of theme material on display.

And yet the fill is nicely smooth. I enjoyed the long non-theme fill like PEARL JAM, DISHED IT OUT, GARBAGE PAIL, and PREP COOK.

Nicely executed theme and grid. 3.75 stars.

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword, “Freakonomics!” – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

In Ed Sessa’s theme today, a series of broadly financial phrase are reimagined to be referring to a specific profession, that “freaks out” about it:

  • [“Surgeon freaks out over higher __!”], OPERATINGCOST
  • [“Cattle rancher. freaks out over ..”], STOCKMARKETDIP
  • [“Landscaper freaks out over cut back __”!, HEDGEFUND
  • [“Shrimper captain freaks out over __!”], NETLOSSES
  • [“Restaurant owner freaks out over __!”], CONSUMPTIONTAX
  • [“Car rental agency franchisee freaks out over __!”], BUDGETDEFICITS
  • [“Balloonist freaks out over __!”], HYPERINFLATION
  • [“Electrician freaks out over drop in his __!”], CURRENT ACCOUN



Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Start Here”—Darby’s write-up

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer is composed of two words. The first begins with HE- and the second with -RE, spelling out HERE at the start.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "Start Here" solution for 3/20/2022

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Start Here” solution for 3/20/2022

  • 17a [“‘I Am Woman’ singer”] HELEN REDDY
  • 31a [“Like welding gloves”] HEAT RESISTANT
  • 54a [“Licorice root for a sore throat, for example”] HERBAL REMEDY

This theme was definitely helpful in my solve. I first got HELEN REDDY on the crosses after mistakenly filling in NINA SIMONE. From there, I had a good sense of what I needed in each following themer.

This was a speedy puzzle for the most part. The top fell into place with almost no delay, but I got tricked up in the lower middle and right sections. I first had KEEN for 60a [“Enthusiastic”] instead of AVID and MARS for 61a [“Enemy of Wonder Woman”], remembering the Roman name for ARES, which, of course, turned out to be the answer to 64a [“Where the Zhurong rover landed”] right below. Eventually, I filled in BALI for 55d [“Indonesian island where ogoh-ogoh are built”] (you can learn more about the ogoh-ogoh statues here). I also felt a bit like 63a [“Parts of piano benches”] was perhaps a bit too general for LEGS, but it was generally fair.

Overall, a fun Sunday puzzle with really great theme answers.

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27 Responses to Sunday, March 20, 2022

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: I’m gay, but I assumed that the “voice” in the clues for the theme answers was female. Maybe that’s just heteronormativity filling in the gaps, since the constructor’s notes don’t tell us anything about his personal life (not that I’m suggesting that they ought to).

    Overall, I thought it was an OK puzzle. I less fond of cute and clever puns than I once was, even though I continue to make them.

  2. JohnH says:

    I thought it was a passable puzzle, but not a terribly good one. But then it’s a bad pun theme, and I guess for those you have to be on the right wavelength to smile, at least a little, and that’s pretty subjective. The Penguin’s / flight clue seemed to be a particular stretch. (Yeah, I guess you think of lc penguins.) I did doubt that anyone has ever said HAD NO PRAYER rather than “hasn’t” or “hadn’t a prayer,” and I tried hard to fit it, but no success.

    For the rest of the fill, I’d never heard of COHIBA, Big AIR, or SHERA, but gettable. I can kind of see the joke with “tale place” for SET, but another non-smile, and I don’t know why a MINI is fun-sized. Not convinced that DEMONS are always in possession rather than just nasty, but ok. Again, it’s an “it’ll have to do” puzzle. Most rated it worse than I did.

    As for cheering on a gay theme, calm down. It could be from a gay point of view or a woman’s point of view? Who is to say? (If men can’t imagine a woman’s point of view, there’d be no literature, and sometimes I think that for crossword fans there isn’t, only sitcoms.) I guess gays are as entitled as women (or straight men) to lousy puns and, given the theme, a lot of whining, but can’t say they should be proud of it or that it’s a societal breakthrough.

    • scrivener says:

      The clues weren’t strong for the examples you give, but I was thinking of MINI for fun-sized because mini candy bars are packaged as fun-sized, and a place for takes (political, sports, or whatever), as in hot takes, is often a television studio SET.

      I really struggled with this one. 41:59 for me. :(

    • Gary R says:

      I’d disagree on HAD NO PRAYER – I’ve said it myself, usually in a sports context. My team was thoroughly overmatched – “they had no prayer.”

      I’m an occasional cigar smoker, and COHIBA is legitimately a big name. Originals are Cuban, but I think you can get non-Cuban made ones in the States now.

      Not positive, but I think SHERA is parsed SHE-RA (sounded vaguely familiar to me).

  3. Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

    NYT: Atheists can — and DO — pray. Just not to some deity. I found the puzzle to be a tedious slog, which is usually true of this sort of “conversation” puzzle. The reviewer is free to view this puzzle as queer-centric; I seriously doubt that opinion is shared by many solvers. I actually found more humor in the review than the puzzle, so thanks for that.

  4. huda says:

    NYT: I usually don’t love punny Sundays but I liked this one better than most.
    I didn’t stop to think one way or another about the gender issue, but I can see how it would be meaningful if intended to break a barrier.
    I grew up listening to Arabic songs where your beloved is often referred to in the male form, even when the singer is also male. That can affect the nouns as well as pronouns in Arabic– e.g. Habibi is a beloved male person and Habibti is a beloved female person. I was told that the male form in the song was to be perceived as more generic. BUT in every day life someone NEVER refers to his beloved female as Habibi. It took me years to think about how unusual it was and wonder whether it’s some sort of poetic license or an acceptance that the beloved might be of either sexes. But it made the idea of men loving men less foreign to me, in spite of growing up in a conservative culture.
    I love how SCIENCE was clued. My sister was a co-author of an article that was once on the honorable mention list for a breakthrough of the year from Science.

    • Andy says:

      Like you, any gender matters in the puzzle were completely overlooked by me, but I appreciate the fascinating insight (to a non Arabic speaker) into that nuance of the language. I’d heard “yalla habibi” in various songs sung by men, and knew its meaning, but had never been aware that it was masculine, much less that in everyday spoken language a man would use a different form when referring to a woman.

      You mention “poetic license” — do you know if the masculine-as-standard is common in classical Arabic poetry as well as modern music? I wonder if it could be something that started in that art form (where metrical, or even calligraphic, concerns might have made the masculine preferable) and has simply been carried into modern music out of deference to the traditions of classical love poetry. Regardless of the reasons, an interesting linguistic oddity!

  5. Nate says:

    The Venn diagram of men in the comments dismissing my idea that the voice of this puzzle might be queer and the men who would make this same puzzle but use “she” throughout the clues so that people don’t think that they are gay would just be one circle, right? And I know better than to read the comments but gosh some of y’all are PRESSED that there might be any universe in which my read on the queerness of this puzzle’s voice might be valid.

    • Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

      Oh, please. No one [including me] said your take on the puzzle was impossible, but calling it the “most matter-of-factly queer puzzle I’ve seen in ages” made me laugh. Speaking as someone whose wonderful daughter is now his wonderful son, I still found your take on the puzzle funny rather than realistic.

    • JohnH says:

      It’s tempting to try to prove my support for and deep personal involvement with gays and trans, but honestly it’d be sadly defensive, and it’s none of your business. I am aware that, as a straight male, I will always have my blinders and will always BE sexist, whatever my personal connections, my convictions, and how they influence my private feelings and professional work. As Grumpy said, no one was ruling out Nate’s infinite wisdom.

      The important thing is not to descend to “they’re against me, so I must be right,” which, ridiculous as it is, makes us Trump allies right off the mark. And goodness knows, not to conflate “this is wrong” (or “this is just plain dumb”) with “this is from those awful people.” Note that Nate doesn’t descend to refute any argument in particular. Maybe he knows he can’t. Or maybe, worse, maybe he doesn’t care.

    • Andy says:

      I get your point, but amusingly one could also simply read the cluing as just another stodgy old use of the masculine pronoun as the default pronoun, especially by casual crossworders who don’t take notice of the names of constructors.

      That said, the exchange between Shortz and Wiegmann at xwordinfo-dot-com for this puzzle (not linked lest I run afoul of anti-spam measures) does suggest the choice of pronoun was conscious, and was likely Shortz’s: Wiegmann uses ‘she’ in all his groaners; Shortz uses ‘he’ in his.

      Personally, I think ‘they’ would have read better since most of the expressions are usually used for abstract notions rather than individuals (a plan ‘would never fly’ or ‘came to nothing’, not a person), but the setups require referring to an individual. To my ears the ambiguity of ‘they’ makes the transition from referring to an individual to the use of a phrase associated with abstractions more seamless. But of course such a use of ‘they’ would simply have led to a whole ‘nother comment-section debate :D

  6. dh says:

    I think I referenced this joke in a previous comment so I’ll just leave the punch-line: “Me? They’re YOUR pictures!” To each his own. I for one look to crossword puzzles for a diversion, not validation, social commentary, a reason to get “triggered” or an opportunity to express political views. I get enough of that in the rest of the paper.

    I honestly thought the thread of these comments was going to be about how anti-feminist the clues were; that they promote the concept that all a woman wants or needs is a good man.

    What did I like about the puzzle? Most of it, actually – especially the few bits of association within – “A house divided against itself” with “Abe” later on in the puzzle. “Cohiba” in the NW and “Humidor” below in the SW; seeing “Had No Prayer” up top, and “Genesis” later on. “Dual” and “Duel” also made a nice pair.

    Every time I see the word “EMU” in a puzzle I think of another bad joke – containing the mystery phrase “TOTI EMU LETO”.

    I didn’t realize that Sebastian Coe had gone into politics – which for me opened the door to yet another bad pun – something about “continuing to run even after his retirement” or some such thing.

  7. Maura D says:

    WaPo – Love me a good Birnholzian challenge and equally love coming here to read Jim Q’s take on said challenge. I enjoyed the fill as I went along and the appreciated both the bottom letter revealer and the help to getting those song titles. Thanks to both of you.

  8. John F. Ervin says:

    44D, total jerk, TOOL? What am I missing?

  9. John F. Ervin says:

    NYT. 44D total jerk= TOOL? What am I missing?

Comments are closed.