Saturday, March 4, 2023

LAT 3:07 (Stella) 


Newsday untimed (pannonica) 


NYT 3:41 (Matt G?) 


Universal 4:03 (norah)  


USA Today 2:30 (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Rafael Musa and Michael Lieberman’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

I liked this one a lot! It had the fun fill I associate with a Rafael Musa themeless, but with the twists and tricks in the cluing that make for a nice Saturday, even if this puzzle was not one of the hardest I’ve seen in LAT:

Los Angeles Times 3/4/23 by Rafael Musa and Michael Lieberman

Los Angeles Times 3/4/23 by Rafael Musa and Michael Lieberman

  • 13A [Internal revolution] is a nice tricky clue for PALACE COUP. I didn’t notice the parallel clue construction with 17A immediately below until after I’d solved.
  • 18A [Joggers] at first reads like it refers to people performing the act of jogging, but in fact it’s a clue for GYM PANTS.
  • 20A [Low-quality] is CRUDDY, but with that clue and even with half the crossings it could easily also be SHODDY, which makes this corner tougher.
  • 24A [Filled in] might be read as something about filling space, but in fact it’s referring to awareness of a situation: UP TO SPEED.
  • 43A [Dependents that can’t be claimed as tax deductions] is a really cute clue for PETS.
  • 57A [Not set] doesn’t give you a whole lot to go on for UP IN THE AIR.
  • 59A [Plot line] is very clever for AXIS.
  • 3D [Pride of Lions, e.g.] is also clever for TEAM SPIRIT. I had enough crossings that I never looked at this clue during my solve, but it’s pretty great.
  • 5D [One who makes everyone get down on the dance floor?] is a PARTY POOPER. LOL!
  • 7D [___-Man] could easily be filled in as ANT rather than the correct PAC.
  • 30D [Place of creation?] is ETSY, and it’s so very tempting to fill in EDEN.
  • 56D [Discount when buying some foods?] makes a throwaway entry like TARE interesting and tricky to get.

I also enjoyed the entries MERCY RULE, REDDIT AMAS, and RECENCY BIAS. Great puzzle!


Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword — Matthew’s write-up

Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword solution, 3/4/2023

Matt stepping in for Amy today. Always a pleasure to open up and fight through a Ryan McCarty joint. True to his style, we’ve got a wide-open center. Let’s go right to notes:

  • 17a [End of March Madness familiarly] NCAA FINAL. “Familiarly” here is a fact-checking hedge; in both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball tournaments, the games are officially the “National Championship Game”
  • 25a [Document for some travelers] CAR TITLE. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was initially thinking “visa” of some sort
  • 42a [Leading position] VAN. Completely new to me. I presumed it’s related to “vanguard,” and I do see it’s supported in M-W, so one of today’s lucky 10,000.
  • 44a [Title lyric after “Ours is a love …” in a 1950s hit] SO RARE. I’ve been seeing this Jimmy Dorsey song in puzzles for as long as I’ve been doing them — 20 years now — and today I have learned this is the title, not some Italian-ish SORARE. Ah well.
  • 47a [Street wear?] RUT. Nice.
  • 53a [Never say never, say] IDIOM. This feels new to me for the Times, to omit punctuation in service of difficulty (I would expect quotes around the first three words). It’s standard in Stumpers and in indie themelesses, and maybe I just haven’t noticed it in past Times puzzles that I haven’t been writing up. But it feels new today.
  • 2d [Film that gave Disney its longest-reigning Billboard chart-topper] ENCANTO. In reference to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” “Surface Pressure” is also excellent.
  • 39d [Got down, in a way] KNEELED. Knelt? Whichever is convenient to the grid?

Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Systems Down” — Matthew’s write-up

Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword solution, “Systems Down,” 3/4/2023

Down-running themers end in types of “systems:”

  • 18d [Unharmed] SAFE AND SOUND
  • 11d [According to a viral Tril Withers tweet, it’s white people’s equivalent of “you got me [bleep]ed up] NEWSFLASH BUDDY
  • 26d [Assurance for an employee] JOB SECURITY

Edit: Thanks to Sanfranman and Lester in the comments for pointing out that ITS AN HONOR, OLD SCHOOL, and FACE VALUE are also themers. This considerably changes some of what I wrote initially, but I still feel this grid is a little too unconnected for my tastes.

At 12, 14, and 11 letters, respectively, these themers demand some pretty noticeable asymmetry, and we have little connectivity in the bottom half. SECURITY BOND would have meant two themers with the “system” word at the end, and one at the beginning, but might have afforded solvers a grid design that offered more connectivity and paths throughout the puzzle.


David Alfred Bywaters’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Repairers” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 3/4/23 • Sat • “Repariers” • Bywaters • solution • 20230304

Excellent title for the theme mechanism employed here. You see, there’s a root word that can have RE- prefixed or -ER suffixed—the theme answers feature such pairs. re-pair-er

  • 22a. [Bee on a break?] RESTING STINGER (re-sting sting-er).
  • 32a. [Mall cop on a case?] RETAIL TAILER (re-tail-er).
  • 49a. [Basketball player who’s just retired?] RECENT CENTER.
  • 66a. [Part of a henhouse team?] RELAY LAYER.
  • 70a. [Wrecking ball?] REBAR BARER.
  • 86a. [Champion firewood stacker?] RECORD CORDER.
  • 99a. [Useful post-shipwreck consultant?] REMAST MASTER.
  • 118a. [Big celebrity who faces facts?] REALIST A-LISTER. Wondering if this one was the seed entry.

Not a huge fan of the theme but I can recognize that it’s well done for what it is. Just for fun, here are the ones that can take both affixes simultaneously: retailer, recenter, relayer, recorder, remaster.

  • 17d [Green Muppet] OSCAR, originally orange. 28d [Red Muppet] ELMO.
  • 40d [He chooses the red pull over the blue pill] NEO. Corrupted by reactionaries.
  • A pair of good misdirections: 13a [Complex unit] CONDO, 18a [Take in] TRICK. There were some less-successful misdirections too, including: 80a [One who make take a gander] GOOSE and 124a [Tasty butterflies, e.g.] PASTA.
  • 27a [Number of syllables in “guten Tag”] DREI. 39a [Number of syllables in “ciao”] UNO. 111a [Number of syllables in “feliz cumpleaños”] SEIS.
  • 77a [React to a dog in the road] VEER. What a strange choice for a clue.

SN’s Newsday Crossword — pannonica’s write-up

Newsday • 3/4/23 • Saturday Stumper • SN, Newman • solution • 20230304

I wish I hadn’t accidentally turned off the timer, because I’d like to know how long this beast actually took me. It was definitely a looong time.

Some really tough clues in here, but first I’ll highlight the central pair of long acrosses, which are exactly the same orthographically but very different when parsed correctly:

  • 30a [Many Peruvians’ ancestry] INCAN DESCENT.
  • 40a [Extraordinarily bright] INCANDESCENT.

Nifty, huh?

Now let’s round up the toughest of the tough:

  • 6a [Early influence on Asimov] PULPS, not WELLS or VERNE.
  • 11a [Early word?] GOO. Come on.
  • 43a [Disco-era on-air fad] CBS. Not actually related to anything disco, unless you count something like this:
  • 50a [Digital attention-getter] SNAPPER.
  • 53a [Ascend] AVIATE.
  • 6d [Person or pet with well-developed muscles] PUG.
  • 12d [Hobbyist’s hand tools] OILERS.
  • 25d [Window dressing] FAÇADES.
  • 51d [Title character of 19th-century French lit.] ATHOS. Tricky because it’s indirect, a reference to the fact that he’s one of The Three Musketeers. Compare to the parallel but more straightforward clue for 44a [Title character of 19th-century French lit.] Emma BOVARY, of Madame Bovary.

And some of the rest:

  • 27a [What Mexicans call a “tree chicken”] IGUANA. Not to be confused with a Mexican tree duck, Dendrocygna autumnalis, which is in fact a duck.
  • 48a [Editorial attention-getter] HOT TAKE. 9d [Most newsworthy] PAGE ONE.
  • 55a [Height of a media mogul’s ambition] SAN SIMEON. No indication that it’s a particular media mogul.
  • 62a [Outmoded rental] VIDEO. But people rent videos to stream all the time now.
  • 13d [1940’s home of the Bushes] ODESSA. But they are originally from Maine? Then settled in Texas and then back to Maine for a time? You know what, I don’t really care.
  • 21d [Surname akin to Russo] REID. Though this was going to be ROTH.
  • 41d [Bon Appétit’s “invention that redefined baking”] CAKE MIX. Noted, but I’m not a fan.
  • 42d [Much, much more than a wink] EONS. As in, it took me EONS to solve this crossword. Also, I conflated winks with ‘forty winks’ and tried COMA.
  • 45d [They’ll make you smart] STINGS. I was wise to the misdirect but was still not confident about STINGS.

Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 62” by Rebecca Goldstein and Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up

THEME: None!


  • ⭐SHOWERBEER 17A [Suds that may be sudsy]
  • ICANRELATE 62A [“Been there!”]
  • DRAGSHOW 57A [Performance for RuPaul]
  • SIDEHUSTLE 28D [Source of extra income]
  • TOEBEANS 20A [Cutesy name for the pads on feline paws]
  • MOMAGERS 40D [Portmanteau for some parents of child stars]
  • CATEYES 43D [Feline makeup that Taylor Swift draws “sharp enough to kill a man”]


I’m INTO IT! (23A [Excited about something])

Even among a steady stream of banger themeless puzzles from Universal, this one is a standout. Rebecca and Rafa at the top of their respective games here: grade a smooth gridding packed with modern entries and clues that balance ease, specificity, and evocative references.

I had a hard time seeing INSANDOUTS – those multi-short word long downs always do a number on me. We also have OOHANDAAH, ANDSO, and SOSO, as well as NO ONE and ONESIE — all edging on dupey, but taking care to distinguish these in the cluing

Fun that we have both a SHOWERBEER and a BEERFRIDGE among this weekend. I haven’t done the rest yet… maybe we’ll find an underlying meta theme…

Thanks Rebecca, Rafa, and the Universal team!


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44 Responses to Saturday, March 4, 2023

  1. Jeremy says:

    NYT 42A: how is “van” a “leading position?”

    • JDivney says:


      • Christopher Smith says:

        So, NCAA FINAL gets “familiarly” because it has initials but nothing for VAN. Okey doke.

        • Mr. [not really] Grumpy says:

          IN THE VAN has been around for centuries, methinks.

          • Me says:

            Yes, it’s Saturday, so some sketchiness in cluing is acceptable, but I agree that cluing VAN this way, without any kind of qualifiers, is focusing too much on trying to be obscure. I’ve never heard of “in the van” until just now, and it’s listed in several online dictionaries as a UK usage. The actual military “van” unit that vanguard comes from hasn’t been in use for centuries. There are a million ways to clue VAN without going to the nth definition in the dictionary.

            I also agree with the comments below about CARTITLE. Most people look at their car title twice: once when they buy the car and once when they sell it. It would be like cluing HOUSEDEED as “document for some people who work from home”; it’s not wrong but it’s focused more on being misleading than anything else.

            All just my opinion, of course.

  2. JP says:

    Hi All,
    Is it just me or have the links to the NYT solutions not worked yesterday and today?

  3. RCook says:

    The NE corner of the NYT was just mean. CRYPTEX? ENTRE? The clue might as well have said “Guess a preposition”, because both languages share quite a few. Also CARTITLE is not something typically required for travel, so that one sat unfinished for a while.

    • Mr. [not really] Grumpy says:

      I would think most [if not all] law enforcement offices would recommend that you NOT travel with the title to your car. The registration certificate is sufficient, and, if your car were stolen, the thief would have the chance to use the title fraudulently.

    • Eric H says:

      I agree about that NE corner. It had been a fun solving experience until I got stuck there, mostly because of the bad clue for CAR TITLE. (The “Da Vinci Code” thing doesn’t really bother me. I didn’t know it, but I expect it was a gimme for a lot of people.)

  4. Eric H says:

    NYT: There were some wonderful devilish clues — UNCLE, PRESS ENTER, ESSAY MILL, ERROR MESSAGE, PDA, PAGODA — but I got completely stuck in the NE corner. I don’t buy the clue for CAR TITLE. A traveler might need a car’s registration document, but that’s not what a CAR TITLE is for.

    25A’s “traveler” had me trying “postille” (what I was actually thinking of was an “apostille”). I have never read nor seen “The Da Vinci Code,” so CRYPLEX made enough sense.

    And every time I see the song SO RARE in a grid (it’s all over the archives), I see it as one word rhyming with “Volare.”

    Other than that one corner, most of this filled in fairly quickly.

    • Eric H says:

      Commenters on the Wordplay blog have pointed out that the CAR TITLE clue doesn’t state or imply that you need to carry your car title while traveling; that’s just an easy inference to make.

      I’m willing to concede that point, but I still don’t like that clue.

  5. Seth says:

    Stumper: Haaaaard. Kind of embarrassed at how long it took me to see that 30A was INCAN DESCENT, especially since I got the other INCANDESCENT so fast. Didn’t help that I had amoNG instead of USING for a long time (because of course I did). I only kind of understand USING…is it like, “I’m hitting this nail with a hammer” vs “I’m hitting this nail using a hammer”?

    SW was hardest for me.
    – Can someone explain CBS for “Disco-era on-air fad”?
    – How about NOB?
    – SAN SIMEON is the hardest thing I’ve seen in a Stumper in a long time. Even after finishing, it took a good bit of googling to figure it out. Presumably it has to do with William Randolph Hearst and his castle in San Simeon, CA? Brutal. To get this, you have to 1) think of this guy when you see media mogul, 2) know that he has a castle, 3) recognize that the height of ambition here means having a castle, and 4) know the name of the obscure town where that castle is.

    Other things:
    – Never heard of AGE MATE. I had dIA (thinking maybe Denver International Airport? I know that’s wrong though). AGE dATE seemed legit.
    – Another ugh name-related-to-name clue. I will never not comment on these. But amazingly, I actually was able to google around and figure out why these names are “akin” to each other. Russo and REID both mean “red” in their respective languages.

    • marciem says:

      CBS = Citizens Band radios… big during the disco era but had nothing to do with each other, as pannonica noted in her review.

      “Breaker breaker one niner, smokey up ahead…”

    • Pilgrim says:

      NOB as in Nob Hill.

  6. Arthur Shapiro says:

    WSJ: 115A – I’ve never thought of an amoeba as a beast before.

    Should I have been worried, every time I walk by a pond, that an amoeba is going to leap out and attack?

  7. David L says:

    NYT: Same problems as others with the NE corner. I put in CARTITLE with reluctance but it helped me figure out that section. The clue for USEDTOBE doesn’t quite make sense to me. Isn’t it exactly synonymous with “was”? He was famous, he used to be famous. I don’t see how ‘at one time’ fits in.

    Stumper: Oddly enough I found it not too much of struggle, despite the absence of clues for 58D and 60D. SANSIMEON held me up for a quite a while, especially as I was thinking SHAMED for 43D. I call foul on the clue for ATHOS. Surely a title character is a character whose name is part of the title? BOVARY yes, ATHOS no. And since when is a person with well-developed muscles known as a PUG?

  8. Teedmn says:

    Hah, I never even noticed that INCAN DESCENT and INCANDESCENT were exactly the same though I did see both DESCENTs. I was beginning to question my 40A INCANDESCENT based on the E of 42D. Glad I didn’t blink and cross it all out!

    The way I get the Stumper often cuts off the bottom clues so I had no idea what 58D or 60D should be. Scary because those three-letter answers are often the footholds into a section of the grid. But the crosses filled in, whew.

    • Twangster says:

      If you ever need it, you can go to this link to see the missing clues:

      I did need it for this one, and it still wasn’t enough to solve the bottom right corner.

      I find the occasional missing clues with the Stumper one of the more bizarre phenomena in Crosswordland. Seems like they could at least include a 2nd page with these final few clues.

  9. Me says:

    Stumper: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crossword that had the exact same answer twice in the same puzzle, as we see here with INCANDESCENT. Has the NYT or any other traditional outlet ever done that before, either as part of some theme or in a standalone setting like here?

  10. sanfranman59 says:

    USAT: 28D IT’S AN HONOR and 35D FACE VALUE are also themers in this puzzle.

    • Lester says:

      I didn’t do the puzzle, but it looks like OLDSCHOOL could also be one.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Yup … I don’t know how I didn’t notice that one since it sits right next to NEWS FLASH BUDDY. Kudos to EA. It’s pretty impressive constructing to get six long themers into the same puzzle. It also illustrates one of the challenges presented by asymmetric grids. It can be tough to identify which answers are themers.

  11. ktd says:

    LAT: this was an awesome puzzle, and and astonishing construction to boot. Getting so many long answers to intersect through the center of the grid with no loss in quality is stunning. Bravo Rafa and Michael!

  12. Papa John says:

    Today’s NYT at 9 Across is a good example of how far the NYT, under Shortz’ helm, has gone in misleading or actually erroneous clues. “UNCLE” is not “A good word for giving”. It is, however, a good word for “giving up”.

    • David L says:

      It’s a stretch, but you can say “I give” to mean “I surrender.” But the clue borders on Stumper territory, which is not a good thing IMO.

      • Papa John says:

        It’s all the same to me, David. I think you need the “up” in “I give” to mean surrender.

      • Gary R says:

        I have to disagree about it being a stretch. When I was a kid on the school playground, “I give” was the standard surrender at the end of a wrestling match. On the other hand, I never heard anyone say “uncle,” so …

  13. Eric H says:

    Stumper: This started off fairly well, but finishing it took me a long time. And that’s with having seen the INCAN DESCENT and INCANDESCENT wordplay here (doesn’t that break the duplicates “rule”?). And with heavily using the check feature (and reveal for the Trace Adkins song — never heard it, don’t particularly want to — and I like a lot of country music!)

  14. JimH says:

    In the stumper
    What oh what is VTB?

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