Saturday, March 18, 2023

LAT 3:37 (Stella) 


Newsday 28:15 (Derek) 


NYT 5:44 (Amy) 


Universal 3:18 (norah)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ 15:15 (Derek) 


Ada Nicolle’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 3 18 23, no. 0318

Sorry to be getting to the puzzle so late! Ada’s latest strikes me as easier than the Fri NYT, so I’d have switched the Fri and Sat crosswords… but I’ll bet lots of solvers found this one more challenging.

Fave fill: Online phrasing “BIG IF TRUE” (I prefer huge if true), used to comment on something scandalous you’ve not seen proof of. ON STEROIDS clued idiomatically in the nonhormonal sense, meaning [To an extreme]. HOT DOG BUN? Sure. “DO YOU QUARREL, SIR?” from Romeo and Juliet, a question following the “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” bit. CHEAP DATE, that’s me, just pick up some Popeyes. ROSA PARKS, GET RICH QUICK, the sound of it is really quite ATROCIOUS, and DREAM TEAM, too.

I also liked 21d. [Words that form other words when read backward], such as desserts/stressed: SEMORDNILAPS, or palindromes backwards. In my head, though, this would somehow be spelled SEMILORDNAPS, so I had a little unraveling to do. Pandrolimes! Sure, why not?

New to me: NOISE MUSIC, or [Experimental nonmelodic genre]. Sound unheard, I’m gonna say no thank you. Also did not know the UGLI was a [Citrus also known as “uniq” fruit]. Wiki explains it’s the Jamaican tangelo and that ugli and uniq are both trade names.

A number of the clues made me smile along the way, but it’s after midnight and I’m too tired to look for them in the puzzle. The only faintly bothersome (to me) fill was LIM. and UTNE, not bad in a 70-worder. 4.25 stars from me.

Hoang-Kim Vu’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 3/18/23 by Hoang-Kim Vu

Los Angeles Times 3/18/23 by Hoang-Kim Vu

This puzzle feels like a throwback, and boy does it make me feel old to say that a style of something that was popular in the aughts and early 2010s is a “throwback.” But there you go. The retro feel comes from the triple stacks of 15-letter entries on top and on the bottom, a constructing feat I most commonly associate with Martin Ashwood-Smith. The danger with triple stacks (and even more so with quad stacks) is that, to get all of the crossings to work, often the actual content of the stacks is less “sparkly,” so to speak, than that of a themeless with stacks of 8- to 11-letter entries. In our current era of “fill is king,” the triple stack has mostly faded into the background.

I’d say that this particular triple-stack has pretty good if not super-exciting-on-their-own 15s with I GUESS THAT WORKS, MONTHIVERSARIES, and I KNOW THE FEELING (that last one’s not part of a stack) as my favorites, not as much with PESCATARIAN DIET (feels a little green paint to me), ONE-ON-ONE DEFENSE, and PERSONALITY TEST.

But this puzzle is more than the sum of its parts. For example, PERSONALITY TEST at 60A gets a great clue: [Quality inspection?]. And what really made this puzzle for me was the clues on the short entries crossing the triple stacks: A lot of them aren’t easy, making it tough to obtain a foothold and satisfying when you do. I particularly liked [More succinctly?] for ETC, [Medical waste collected in red containers] for SHARPS, [Steers steers] for HERDS, and [Last] for KEEP up top. Down below, [Mexican cheese?] for PESOS, [Fill a flat again] (proof that even an undesirable RE- entry like RELET can be clued in a way that makes it satisfying), [“Your ___”] as a tough clue for LOSS, [Half an iconic 1981 Rolling Stone cover] for ONO, and [___ Matronic of Scissor Sisters] instead of the more usual de Armas or Navarro for ANA, provide a nice challenge.

So: When I complain about the LATs being too easy, something like this is what I was hoping for!

Universal, “Universal Freestyle 64” by Hoang-Kim Vu and Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up

THEME: None!




  • STARTERHOME 16A [First quarters?]
  • WHATSTHEDAMAGE 43A [“How much is this gonna set us back?”]
  • GUITARSOLOS 61A [Sweet parts of jams?]
  • DONTYOUDARE 57A [Forceful warning]


Ultra-smooth grid from a pair of 2022 Orca nominees: Universal themeless king Rafa Musa and collaborator Kim Vu (which I heard made David Steinberg say “what a hype collab!!” (agreed!)) that gave a near (?) record time for me.

⭐ITSNOTTHATEASY 25A [“This is harder than you’d think, OK?!”] to build a grid this clean and smooth while packing it full of long interesting phrases and entries ripe for cluing by modern references and the sort of fun-but-easy misdirection that is a hallmark of the Universal themeless under current management.

Today I want to give special attention to this set of back-to-back clues found right in the middle of the puzzle:

35-Across Native people in Utqiagvik, Alaska ; INUIT
37-Across Works such as Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” sculpture ; ART
38-Across Diacritic that indicates nasalization in Portuguese ; TILDE

Each of these clues grounds the entry in a culturally relevant context. The focus in doing so shifts the priority from making things easy for an “average solver” to including references that highlight things important to the constructor(s), or that can serve as learning opportunities for any solver, or that can make someone feel seen. It’s so easy to just throw these sorts of shortish crossword-friendly words into a grid and clue them in any of the ways they always have been. Here, all three clues are unique to today’s puzzle. As a solver, I want to see more and more of this in puzzles of all kinds.

I did learn about Yayoi Kusama’s ART, including the cited “Pumpkin” sculpture, a six-foot tall, eight-foot wide black and yellow pumpkin. Please take a few minutes if you have them to read this and this.

Kim and Rafa are each contributors to These Puzzl3s Fund Abortion, which is available for pre-sale now and launches March 28. I am so looking forward to everyone’s great contributions to this project.

Thanks Kim, Rafa, and the Universal team!

Stella Zawistowski’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 03/18/2023

Hello, all! It has been a minute! Guest blogging the Stumper this week, and man, am I rusty! I could barely FIND the Stumper; I solved on the Puzzle Society website, which I have anyway. Nearly a half hour to finish this beast. That being said, I miss the agony! I absolutely LOVE Stella’s puzzles, and I am usually on her wavelength. Not so today! Tons of hard stuff in this one. I don’t always do the Stumper each week, but I miss that feeling of staring at a sea of white squares blankly for what seems like hours! In the end, all is fair, and I may have learned a thing or two! 4.6 stars from me for this toughie!

I have made plans to go to the ACPT. I waited too long, so I am in the hotel around the corner, but I hope to see many of you there! It has been 4 years since I have been there in person. Only a couple of weeks to go!

Some highlights:

  • 9A [Cubo pequeo] OCHO – I think this means “small cube” in Español. Correct me if I am wrong. I probably am!
  • 17A [What Sweden and Greece share] LONG E – Brutal and beautiful all at the same time!
  • 27A & 45A [Milk __] CAN & BAR – Neither was DUD or SOP, which I tried in both places!
  • 31A [Scorekeeper?] MUSIC STAND – I had the STAND part fairly early on, but nice “a-ha!” moment once this finally made sense!
  • 50A & 33A [Iota] ATOM & DROP – Neither was MITE or MOTE, which I tried in both places!
  • 52A [Fully firm] ADAMANTINE – Wow. Hard!

    Halberd – this looks like it would hurt!

  • 58A [The buck stops here] SALT LICK – Best clue of the puzzle? Perhaps!
  • 1D [Spelling sessions] TRANCES – Slight chance this could be SEANCES, especially when you have all but the first two letters! Nice clue.
  • 8D [Where a tiny cart is kept] ONLINE STORE – Clue sounds extremely weird, but makes perfect sense once you think about it!
  • 11D [Medieval battleaxe cousin] HALBERD – I know this from a lot of hidden object games! They’re always hiding weird objects in those games.
  • 22D [Middle management successes] SCULPTED ABS – Another BRILLIANT clue!
  • 28D [What I will always be?] NINTH – Changed my mind: THIS may be the best clue!
  • 34D [Mermaid in the pool] FLOATIE – Another clue that had me scratching my head!

Until the next guest appearance! See some of you in a couple of weeks!

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In Conclusion…”—Jim’s review

WSJ 03/18/2023

Here is the Saturday WSJ write-up! Another guest blogging appearance! Mike Shenk’s puzzles are always quite clean, and this one is no exception. You get to see my non-award-winning handwriting in this solution image; couldn’t get the WSJ page to shrink it down! Technology is too much for me, sometimes!

Our theme is just as the title suggests: add IN to the end of common phrases:

  • 21A [Figuring out what “The Thinker” is thinking about?] DIVINING RODIN
  • 31A [West African nation with a policy of benevolence?] GENTLE BENIN
  • 43A [Woodland home of a supermarket worker?] CHECKER CABIN
  • 59A [Genius at baseball and football trivia?] SPORTS BRAIN
  • 71A [Northern seabird nesting in newly fallen snow?] POWDER PUFFIN
  • 84A [Hoffman putting money into a Broadway show?] ANGEL DUSTIN
  • 97A [Launch into a core-strengthening routine?] SIT UP AND BEGIN

ATTAINT isn’t great, but this puzzle wasn’t too difficult, and the crossings were fairly straightforward. OVETT is also a little dated, but I am an oldhead and I knew this immediately! Solve time of just over 15 minutes for me, but that is on the clunky WSJ solving interface. I am sure the regular blogger gets a clean .puz file to mess with, but I had to improvise today! If I take my time, perhaps I can win the handwriting award at the ACPT? Nah! I will go for a top 50 and hope and pray they can read my writing! 4 stars from me for this one.

Hope to see you in Stamford!

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32 Responses to Saturday, March 18, 2023

  1. Hans says:

    Is 15-Down in the Stumper a bit of a cheat if the clue doesn’t tell you it’s informal. It’d be fine if the clue used the informal but it doesn’t. Thanks.

    • Derek Allen says:

      Fair point! Hard all the way around if you’re not a flower person!

    • Eric H says:

      I was okay with that not having an indication that it’s informal. I expect few people use “gladiolus,” “gladioli,” or “gladioluses.” (The American Heritage Dictionary has a separate listing for “glad” that refers you to “gladiolus.”)

      My issue with that clue is that I was only 80% sure that “irises” was floral and not anatomical.

  2. Eric H says:

    NYT: I found both Friday’s and Saturday’s puzzles to be on the easy side, with Friday’s taking me ⅔ of my average and Saturday’s taking about half my average. Saturday was almost a minute faster than Friday, but I wouldn’t say they should have been switched for publication.

    Both were fun, fresh puzzles, with some punchy new entries and a few really nice clues.

    • Me says:

      I was way over my average on both Friday and Saturday, with a longer time on Friday than Saturday. I personally would have published both of them on Saturday.

      My big hangup today was that I put CANICOMEIN rather than MAYICOMEIN, which left me with DONOUQUARRELSIR. I knew that one of the letters in DONOU was wrong but was having trouble figuring out which one it was for quite a while.

      • Me says:

        I forgot to mention: I think DOYOUQUARRELSIR is a bit obscure for an answer (although I realize it’s a Saturday). I had to read the play in school and have no recollection of that specific line whatsoever. It’s one of many lines in a memorable scene, and I don’t think it’s a line that jumps out or that it’s had any life beyond that particular scene in the play.

        • Eric H says:

          I first read “Romeo and Juliet” about three or four years ago, and while I remembered the thumb-biting, I didn’t remember the retort. But it was easy enough to get with a few crosses.

      • JohnH says:

        I found both hard. I vaguely remembered the Romeo and Juliet exchange, but not at all that line, and I kept wondering how to enter a near but not quite palindrome. Lots of other sticking points, often in long entries where they create more formidable obstacles, but my last to fall turned out to be LOBO, bracken, and MAUI crossing BIG IF TRUE and ERIC. Pretty good puzzle, just by no means an easy Saturday.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      In contrast, I completed both puzzles in well above my 6-month median Friday and Saturday solve times (17% and 9%, respectively). Today’s solve time was slower than yesterday’s by almost two minutes and I was just barely able to get through this puzzle without assistance from the Google machine.

  3. huda says:

    NYT: Really cool puzzle. On the easier side for Saturday.
    But can someone please help me understand why PALINDROMES backwards has an S on both ends? It threw me and delayed my solving.
    I looked up what biting the thumb meant in Shakespeare. Interesting!

    • Eric H says:

      I found this at

      “As far as we know, the term “semordnilap” comes from C.C. Bombaugh’s 1961 book “Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature.” . . . In fact, Martin Gardner, the editor of the book, uses the word “semordnilap” in one of his notes to refer to a word spelled backward that forms a different word.”

      I ride my bike in urban traffic several days a week. I’ve been known to bite my thumb at drivers who behave obnoxiously. I know what the gesture means even if they don’t.

      • marciem says:

        ooh I like that, Eric… biting thumb. As satisfying to you and not so dangerous to your welfare as the other gesture we so often see… plus way classier :) .

        • Eric H says:

          The relative obscurity of the gesture is what appeals to me.

          But with my luck, I’ll do it someday to a hotheaded driver who knows what it means.

  4. huda says:

    Amy, have you ever given a puzzle a 5?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I couldn’t tell you when, but I’m pretty sure I’ve rated some exceptional puzzles with 5 stars. I’m mostly reviewing themelesses now, and I reserve a 5 for a crossword that does something new and surprising, that’s clever and likely to be remembered years later. It’s hard for a themeless to break out of the box without some sort of gimmick, and I’m probably not going to love a 56-worder (because such a low word count generally means compromises in the fill to get everything to fit) or a gimmick (excluding a particular vowel from the grid, playing some game in the clue list).

      Do you think I should be more generous with themelesses that I really enjoy?

  5. David L says:

    NYT: I had an error that was very hard to track down. In the SW corner I had BEERS crossing TOELE, and although I wasn’t familiar with the latter Google Translate assured me it is indeed French for canvas. But I couldn’t find any other errors, and eventually it occurred to me that 56A should be BIERS, yielding TOILE at 46D. However, google says ‘toile’ simply means cloth, although canvas is a type of cloth. So I’m puzzled by that.

    Stumper: got there eventually but with (as usual) a couple of mystifications. I’m with Derek on not understanding the clue for FLOATIE, and I also don’t get why ‘quad wheels, for short’ is SRS. (But then I don’t know what a quad is either. Googling ‘quad wheels’ just brings up a bunch of sites selling small wheels of various kinds).

    • Boston+Bob says:

      I think quad wheels are big wheels on the college quad, i.e. seniors. Did not like the German spelling of beer pluralized as in English. Can someone please explain the Dahl clue?

      • David L says:

        Thanks for the explanation, and good point about the incorrect plural of BIER. There is, in fact, an Oxford dictionary devoted to Dahl. Perhaps they are working on a new, Bowdlerized version as we speak.

    • R says:

      The TOILE/BIERS cross was my last as well. Seems like they could have been clued a little more transparently for people who didn’t go past first year French or German. The obscurely clued FERN/NCIS cross was also a little rough.
      Two nits an otherwise solid Saturday.

    • ML says:

      I had the same “TOILE/TOELE” and “BIERS/BEERS” issue which tanked my time lol

    • JohnH says:

      If it helps, TOELE doesn’t ring a bell for me at all in French, and I’m halfway ok in French, and even the biggest of my French dictionaries doesn’t have it. Translations for TOILE include cloth, linen, and canvas, and given that crosswords can often imply possibilities rather than synonyms, that’s more than good for me.

  6. Eric H says:

    Stumper: If Stan Newman’s idea is to make every freaking clue as opaque or oblique as possible, then he’s succeeding. I plugged away for 45 minutes, making wild guesses that got me g two or three answers in a row, before getting stuck again. I probably would not have finished it without checking a few answers, some of which were right and some not.

    That kind of puzzle-solving process takes the fun out of wonderful clues like the ones for MUSIC STAND and SCULPTED ABS. I’d enjoy the Stumpers more with a few more gimmes scattered around the grid. (You know you’re in for a challenge when LUNDI is one of your only gimmes.)

    Count me as another person perplexed by the clue for SRS. I had a theory that it referred to the quad canes people with mobility sometimes use, but that doesn’t explain the “wheels” in the clue. (But maybe the wheels are those on a wheelchair? I really hope I’m wrong, because that’s awfully ableist and ageist.) [Edited to say that I just saw the interpretation that “quad’ is a college quad and SRS are students. That’s plausible, but it’s just another example of clueing that’s hard just for the sake of being hard.]

    Maybe the mermaid FLOATIE is junk like this:

    • Twangster says:

      I agree wholeheartedly about welcoming a few more gimmes. I did better on this one than last week’s but still did not close to finishing.

    • Seth says:

      But the whole point of the Stumper is to be as brutally hard as possible. There are so many puzzles out there now from so many outlets, there should be a wide range of difficulties across them. I love that there’s one puzzle that’s this much of a challenge. If I want one a little easier, there are plenty to choose from.

      • Eric H says:

        I get that the Stumper is supposed to be hard. But it shouldn’t be near impossible, which is how I would describe the last few I have tried. If there’s no where to get started , how is anyone supposed to finish?

        • Seth says:

          I also have my gripes about the Stumper. For example, my least favorite Stumper clue variety is “Name related to [some name]”, and the answer is just…a random name. And it’s completely impossible to see why the two names would be related. The clue might as well be “Name”.

          However, I do like having a brutally hard puzzle each week. I wouldn’t want every hard puzzle to be this hard, but I love that there’s one! To your point that there’s nowhere to get started so it’s impossible to finish: I mean, people DO start and people DO finish :-)

          Not sure how long you’ve been trying the Stumpers, but when I first tried them, they were as you say: impossible. But I kept at it, doing what I could, checking answers, looking things up to get foot holds, and I started being able to do more of the puzzles, until I eventually got to the point where I could complete every one (with maybe one check here or there). So keep at it! They’ll get more manageable!

          • Eric H says:

            Thanks for the encouragement. I’d guess that I’ve solved or attempted between 10 and 20 Stumpers.

            I sometimes don’t feel like I have an hour or more on Saturday to devote to a puzzle, so the Stumper is not a part of my regular routine. (Actually, the NYT is the only puzzle I do every day.)

            • Seth says:

              I definitely don’t do the Stumper in one sitting. I’ll look at it on and off throughout the day (sometimes into Sunday) when I have the minutes here and there.

    • Seth says:

      Oh, and a wheel is a (probably dated and obscure) slangish term for a big shot, someone with power and influence. So seniors would be that type of person on a college campus, where quads are.

      • David L says:

        I’ve come to look at Stumper cluing as not so much cluing per se but rather a loose, sometimes very loose, form of word association. The mermaid = floatie one, for instance. Sure, you might get a floatie in the form of a mermaid, as Eric H found. Also: dolphin, lifeboat, pirate ship, frisbee, oreo cookie, etc etc.

  7. Teedmn says:

    The Stumper had its gimmes for me (GLADS crossing LONG E, LUNDI crossing UPLIT) but the rest was carved out one letter at a time. A milk Cow raised some havoc along with a MUSIC Sheet. But as Derek (welcome back!) put it, staring at the sea of white squares in despair is what makes cracking the Stumper so sweet.

    Thanks, Stella, another great one!

  8. This Inquiring Mind Wants to Know... says:

    With all due respect…

    Can someone explain to me exactly what is the appeal and satisfaction of racing through a crossword as fast as possible?

    I’m a retired baby boomer who’s been doing puzzles ever since I can remember…but I’ve never had the urge to try and Speed Solve.

    For one thing, I cross out the clue numbers as I go, which makes it easier to see the clues yet unsolved.
    And whenever I puzzle out a particularly clever answer, I like to take a few moments and luxuriate in it’s creativity. I revel in those “AHA!” and “OMG!” moments when it feels like your mind stops,and you’re floating on a feeling of Enlightened Ecstasy.

    So please tell me…what am I missing?

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