Sunday, March 12, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack) 


NYT 13:56 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 8:09 (Jim P) 


Universal 5:03 (norah) 


WaPo 6:26 (Matthew) 


David Tuffs’s New York Times crossword, “This and That” —Nate’s write-up

03.12.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

03.12.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

22A: GIRL SCOUT LEADER [One in charge of Brownies and cookies? / Easy to understand]
LOUD (in gray squares) and CLEAR (in circles)

31A: FOLDING THE LAUNDRY [Post-dryer chore / Splendid]
FINE (in gray squares) and DANDY (in circles)

45A: WEDDING CRASHER [One whom the bride and groom didn’t invite / Steal a meal]
DINE (in gray squares) and DASH (in circles)

62A: HEAVEN ON EARTH [Utopia / Occasionally, poetically]
EVER (in gray squares) and ANON (in circles)

82A: BLACK FOREST HAM [German deli meat / Discussion]
BACK (in gray squares) and FORTH (in circles)

96A: LAST PLACE FINISHES [They might result in booby prizes / Physical discomforts]
ACHES (in gray squares) and PAINS (in circles)

109A: TABLOID MAGAZINE [Issue featuring celebrity issues / Repeatedly]
TIME (in gray squares) and AGAIN (in circles)

Each themer has two clues; the first is the clue to the theme entry itself, while the second is the clue to the “This and That” phrase spelled out by the series of gray squares and circles in that theme entry. For example, DINE and DASH (Steal a meal) is hidden, in order, inside WEDDING CRASHER (One whom the bride and groom didn’t invite).

It’s pretty neat to find theme entries that can pull double duty like this, especially themers very much in the language like this puzzle uses. I have to imagine some coding was involved in searching for entries that could do this? Either way, bravo to the constructor for finding this neat set of entries. I wonder if any were left on the cutting room floor.

What did you think of the puzzle? I hope it brought you some joy, especially as we lose an hour this weekend.  Here’s to an easy transition to the new timing and to it being lighter out later!

Robin Stears’ L.A. Times crossword, “Excuses, Excuses!” — Jack’s write-up

The theme is a little hard to describe concisely but here’s my attempt: Puns are made from common excuses by replacing a word with a homophone. The resulting phrases are clued as though they are excuses for not going into some profession. Examples will help.

L.A. Times crossword Solution, 03/12/2023 — “Excuses, Excuses!” by Robin Stears

  • 23A. [“I always wanted to be a ballerina, but I…”] = JUST DIDN’T GET THE POINTE. Pointe is a ballet position. So the common excuse, “I just didn’t get the point,” is modified to a homophonic expression that’s specific to why someone would fall short of becoming a ballet dancer.
  • 34A. [I always wanted to be a baker, but I…] = HAVEN’T GOT WHAT I KNEAD
  • 53A. [I always wanted to be a Gregorian monk, but I…] = NEVER GOT THE CHANTS (my favorite)
  • 73A. [I always wanted to be a perfumer, but I…] = HAD NO COMMON SCENTS
  • 91A. [I always wanted to be a gardener, but I…] = COULDN’T FIND THE THYME (my second favorite)
  • 109A. [I always wanted to be a wedding officiant, but I…] = DON’T KNOW THE RITE PEOPLE

I had fun with this theme. It’s remarkably consistent, with the small exception that each one puns off the last word except for DON’T KNOW THE RITE PEOPLE, which puns off the penultimate word. Not a big deal. I’m surprised there are so many excuses with punning potential. They’re all excuses you’d actually encounter in daily life except for “I had no common sense,” which most people wouldn’t admit about themselves. Robin chose more interesting homophones than the usual suspects (like “red” and “read”). “Chance” becoming “chants” in 53A is especially nice. Overall a good Sunday theme!

The rest of the puzzle played a little more like an early-week crossword for me. A lot of the clues seemed to take the most straightforward path. 96D. [Recipe amt.] = TBSP crossing 100A. [MLB stat] = RBIS is a particularly dry example. The fill was clean enough for a 21x but I thought the long slots could be a little more ambitious. EVENED UP, PRIORESS, EMULATES, SECTION, EERIEST. You only get so many 7 and 8-letter non-theme entries in a grid and they’re important for keeping solvers engaged, especially in a Sunday-sized puzzle.


  • 45D. [Award quartet for John Legend, for short] = EGOT. I hadn’t realized that John Legend had won a Tony and an Emmy. I knew he had an Oscar for the original song “Glory” in Selma and many Grammys. Turns out he won a Tony for producing a revival of the play Jitney and an Emmy for producing a TV version of Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s the first black male to get an EGOT.
  • 83A. [Give more than a darn?] = CUSS. My favorite clue in the puzzle. Merely saying “darn” isn’t quite cursing, but giving more than a darn elevates you to cursing status.
  • 98A. [Sugar shack surrounders] = MAPLES. I hadn’t heard of a sugar shack before. What a lovely sounding place. They’re cabins where sap is collected and boiled into maple syrup.
  • 103D. [Scrape covered with a Paw Patrol bandage, e.g.] = OWIE. Nobody’s favorite crossword entry but the cute clue won me over.

Caryn Robbins and Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are famous movie quotes clued as if they were applied to fairy tale characters.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” · Caryn Robbins and Jeff Chen · 3.12.23

  • 23a. [Townspeople, to the boy who cried wolf?] “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” The line is from A Few Good Men.
  • 28a. [Hansel and Gretel, as they shoved the witch into the oven?] “HASTA LA VISTA, BABY.” Terminator 2. I wanted a tighter connection here. There’s no baby involved and the fairy tale is German, not Spanish. OTOH, H&G delivering the line Terminator-like to the old witch, does have a certain appeal.
  • 48a. [Troll, to the youngest Billy Goat Gruff?] “HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID.” Casablanca.
  • 55a. [Freshly carved Pinocchio, to Geppetto?] “YOU COMPLETE ME.” Jerry Maguire. That’s a bit sentimental from Pinocchio who was pretty flighty in the beginning.
  • 74a. [Geppetto, in response to freshly carved Pinocchio?] “I AM YOUR FATHER.” The Empire Strikes Back. The rest of the line goes like this: “Join-a me, Pinocchio, and-a together we can a-rule the galaxy as a-father and son, eh?!”
  • 82a. [The swindlers, at the end of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?] “STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES.” Forrest Gump. I can never remember how the tale ends. Do the people ever realize they’re being duped? I guess not, based on the clue.
  • 102a. [Cinderella, to her fairy godmother?] “GO AHEAD, MAKE MY DAY.” Sudden Impact (Dirty Harry). I like this one, especially if you consider the day to end at the stroke of midnight.
  • 109a. [The hare, after losing the race?] “I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER!” On the Waterfront. Yeah, well, you shoulda thought of that earlier.

This was fun and imaginative. I didn’t really catch on to the fairy tale angle at first, but a glance at the title made it clear we were marrying films with these old stories. Some work better than others, but on the whole, this entertained me all the way through. And a chef’s kiss to that title. Mwah!

The trickiest bit is at the beginning when trying to make sense of the clues. Clues are typically definitions or synonyms of the entry. Here, the clues identify the speaker’s of the quote. It’s different than the norm, so I don’t blame people who are thrown off by it, but that said, it didn’t take long to compensate and realize what was going on.

Moving on…with eight long theme answers, the grid is quite segmented horizontally. We get a couple long Downs: TERRACES (fine) and HOT TODDY (nice), but that’s about it. Other goodies: SPIDERY, RUN RIOT, and “HEY SIRI” in the Across direction.

There are a whopping 47 3-letter answers. That’s way more than 20 which is what I thought was the typical target. (However, looking back at a few past NYT Sunday grids, they had several in the 30s.) Yes, it’s a lot, but to be honest, they’ve been scrubbed pretty clean, and there isn’t anything that’s too far out there. I really didn’t notice during the solve.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Bleak assessment]. “IT’S BAD.” Ominous way to start your grid, but thankfully it didn’t apply today.
  • 7a. [“Hot Ones” sight, often]. SWEAT. Hot Ones is apparently a YouTube show where people eat spicy chicken wings.
  • 92a. [Much ado about nothing]. NON-EVENT. I am not going to let this clue go by without plugging the fact that my daughter is currently playing (even as I write this) Hero in our local playhouse’s production of the Shakespeare play. Tickets on sale here.

I’m a sucker for a fun, imaginative grid, and this one fit the bill. Four stars.


Universal, “Mind in the Gutter” by Jared Goudsmit — norah’s write-up

THEME: 36D HEAD SOUTH [Begin to fail … or a hint to the last word of 3-, 8- or 28-Down]


Univ-2023-03-12 Goudsmit

Univ-2023-03-12 Goudsmit

  • ONION DOME 3D [Russian church topper]
  • ⭐ POOLNOODLE 28D [Foam on the water?]
  • STRING BEAN 8D [Casserole legume]


Wow – not for lack of trying, but I *did not* get this theme at all while solving. Thought we’d have dropped MICs, thought we’d have trailing DOGS somewhere, I dunno, maybe a road of SILKS weaving through? But what we actually have is apparently smarter than me – types of heads at the ends of the long downs, with a down-headed revealer. This sort of before-and-after theme almost always has a ton of possibilities to choose from, so its nice when they are all undeniably *things*, and the more interesting or relatable those things, the better. ONION DOME is a great choice here, something that may be unfamiliar to some solvers and an opportunity to learn something new. A clue that may not be helpful if you don’t know the thing in 3D [Russian church topper] requires clean crossers and easy clues and that’s exactly what we’ve got.

(Props to cluing STRINGBEAN as a legume and not a “vegetable” iykyk ;) )

Thanks Jared and the Universal team!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Director’s Cut”—Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Director’s Cut,” 3/12/2023

Evan gets into the movie spirit on Oscars weekend. Our theme clues include movies in parens, and the directors of those films are found in circled letters in the theme entries:

  • 24a [Sternums (“Platoon”)] BREASTBONES
  • 45a [“Dead Man’s Party” band with a rhyming name (“Parasite”)] OINGO BOINGO
  • 67a [Attractive to viewers (“Brokeback Mountain”)] TELEGENIC
  • 69a [Brand that touts itself as “The King of Beers” (“The Sound of Music)] BUDWEISER
  • 83a [Health clinic, e.g. (“It Happened One Night”)] MEDICAL PRACTICE
  • 100a [Texas Revolution figure for whom Texas’ largest city is named (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”)] SAM HOUSTON
  • 104a [Bitter, public feud (“The Quiet Man”)] WAR OF WORDS

113a [Oscar-winning film whose Oscar-winning director is spelled out by the letters cutting the circled Oscar-winning directors] THE HURT LOCKER

The Hurt Locker, of course, was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I noticed neither BIGELOW nor even the fact that the circled names in the themers all had only a single-letter gap.


  • 21a [Galvanic cell’s negative terminal] ANODE. I’ve seen this word plenty in puzzles, but rarely with such a specific clue. And now I’ve learned something: ‘This contrasts with a cathode, an electrode of the device through which conventional current leaves the device. A common mnemonic is ACID, for “anode current into device”‘
  • 118a [“Such a strange and meaningless word,” per the rock musician Davey Havok] EMO. I quite like this clue – I came across EMO while fact-checking a puzzle recently and had trouble finding anywhere where the band in the clue actually used the label.
  • 126a [Southwest locale?] SKY. As in Southwest Airlines.
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29 Responses to Sunday, March 12, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: Fast for me, but a few minutes longer than my personal best.

    I figured the theme out quickly, with GIRL SCOUT LEADER. The theme did help me get a few squares, but overall, I think the circles and shading made it harder to see what I was typing and slowed me down a bit.

    There’s not much wordplay in the clueing. But it is impressive that Mr. Tuffs found such common phrases that worked with his theme.

  2. 11 Down — Most tone-deaf cluing EVER.

    • Sheik Yerbouti says:

      I don’t know, I guess I’m happy they used a fictional person there rather than a real person. How would you clue it that isn’t tone deaf?

      • Eric H says:

        If OBESE is going to be in a puzzle, I would rather see a clue about a fictional character than something cutesy such as “Like someone with a lot to lose?”

    • R says:

      I guess you’ve never seen all the other ways that OBESE has been clued in the past. Even a couple months ago they ran “Like sumo wrestlers, medically speaking,” which feels worse than referring to a fictional person.

      • Sophomoric Old Guy says:

        If we’re going with fictional characters, I’m proposing Kasper Gutman aka “The Fat Man”, in The Maltese Falcon.

        And although probably a little too obvious, Fat Bastard, from the Austin Powers movies.

  3. Tony says:

    Really enjoyed the NYT. For the last two themers, I was able to enter the theme entries (aches/pains, time/again) before the rest of the answer.

    The only answer that gave me a tough time was YHEAR for “Am I understood?”

    • JohnH says:

      Agreed on both counts. Intriguing puzzle, and Y’HEAR was a tough one and a stretch. By coincidence, my first themer to fall was TIME/AGAIN, and since the first variant to spring to mind was “time and time and again,” I’d hit a rabbit hole. But all resolved quickly.

  4. joel rosenberg says:

    I emailed Mr. Shortz to tell him what I thought about not getting a digital acrostic. You should too.

    * Comment edited by Amy to delete Will’s email address. You’re barking up the wrong tree—it’s the NYT Games business people making this change, not Will. I don’t know the email address for the decision makers, but honestly I don’t think they care how many solvers feel ripped off by their decision to shrink the audience for some puzzles and make the acrostic a dull slog. *

  5. pannonica says:

    NYT: I had no desire to discover what the circled and shaded squares spelled—too much unnecessary bother. Much more of a constructing feat than an enjoyable multidimensional solving experience, in my opinion.

  6. Gary R says:

    NYT: Didn’t notice the title, and I solved in AcrossLite, where I had circles, but no shaded squares. The first two themers seemed to work just fine without the shaded squares – CLEAR and DANDY. The third seemed a little off with just DASH – but “maybe” that works. I was bored and stopped solving at that point. If I’d gotten to the fourth and fifth themers, I guess I would have thought I was missing something.

    I appreciate the puzzle more after reading about it here, but still not a big fan.

    ETA: I see pannonica wrote what I was thinking while I was typing my comment.

    • marciem says:

      OTOH… I enjoyed the puzzle just fine, and did it in AL, so didn’t have the hint of shading (only the circles). When I got to “DASH” I knew I was missing something, and there was an additional aha when I took a close look at the title, and then saw that the “this” part was there to make the phrases.

      I do agree it is probably more a constructor’s construction than solver’s, but I still had fun.

      I’m really glad there was no notepad telling me I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the puzzle properly unless I did it in the app.

    • JohnH says:

      Or maybe it’s just a print solver’s puzzle. That happens, and I do recognize that it’s an annoyance to online solvers, meaning the vast majority of regulars here. (Online solvers here have also objected to puzzles that need the instructions, which often I like.) But on opening the magazine the shaded and circled squares were inescapable and indeed came close to having me hardly notice the entire fill! I enjoyed it.

  7. David L says:

    NYT: I had BLOT at 104A, which makes as much sense as CLOT if you are thinking of ink rather than blood, as I was. That gave me OBAMABRAT at 73D, which is stupid, but no more or less stupid than OBAMACRAT. In fact, since the clue refers to 21st century liberals, I imagined this was referring to a younger generation of Dems, hence brats…

    Apart from that, I fully agree with pannonica’s verdict above.

  8. Dean says:

    Can anyone tell me what happened to the other puzzles, that is the cryptic, diagramless, acrostic puzzles. They are no longer on my Sunday NYT site. Is it my computer because my computer was recently updated by Apple when this happened, or are the “other” Sunday puzzles no longer available. Does anyone know?

    • Eric H says:

      The NYT announced a few weeks ago that the “other puzzles” would be published only in the print edition of the Sunday magazine.

      I think you can get electronic versions of them at for an annual membership fee of $20.

      • marciem says:

        Thanks for that tip, Eric! I found it, signed up and will be able to do my favorites (crypto and Puns and Anagrams) in Across Lite (even though it says PDF only).

        I was suffering the loss :'( but now I’m happy :)

  9. John O says:

    I just want to give a quick tip of the cap to Jack, who has posted reviews of the LA Times’ puzzles early on Sundays in recent weeks. I have long found the LA Times Sunday puzzles to be under-appreciated and am happy to see them get their due on this site.

    On another note, this site remains great! The fact that it’s all volunteer-run continues to amaze me.

    • Eric H says:

      As they say in Crosslandia, “amen” to your shoutout to Team Fiend! Reading reviews and comments about puzzles enriches my puzzle-solving experience. I too appreciate all the work that goes into keeping this site going.

  10. Art Shapiro says:

    NYT: Discussion = FORTH? Can someone elucidate?

    • Eric H says:

      All the theme answers have a “this” (the shaded letters) and a “that” (the circled letters), so discussion is BACK and FORTH.

      • Art Shapiro says:

        Oh wow! Thanks. The Across Lite didn’t have the grey squares – only the circles. So the subtheme totally eluded me. Only saw the short (circled) words within the entirety of the long ones. And I hadn’t yet read the writeup.

        • sanfranman59 says:

          I also solve using a puz file created by Crossword Scraper, so I worked the puzzle with circled squares but no shaded squares. The problem I have with the theme is that all of the secondary clues except two of them work with the circled words by themselves (i.e. without the “this” part). Since that’s only a problem if you’re working a grid that doesn’t have the shaded squares, I don’t really have a leg to stand on with this criticism.

  11. Seth says:

    NYT: It was a themeless for me. Saw what the theme was trying to do immediately, and never had the need or the desire to use those second clues. I just used the first clues and the crosses, like a normal themeless puzzle. So I guess for me it giant themeless without the wide-open long answers that Sunday themelesses (which I like!) give me.

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