Sunday, March 19, 2023

LAT untimed (GRAB) 


NYT 25:20 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:53 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim) 


Universal 3:55 (norah) 


WaPo 5:29 (Matthew) 


Robert Ryan’s New York Times crossword, “Give Me a Break!” —Nate’s write-up

03.19.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

03.19.23 Sunday New York Times Crossword

23A: DEPART|MENTALLY [Zone out?]
34A: INTRO|VERSION [Beginner’s edition?]
47A: SUP|POSITION [Seat at the dining table?]
63A: KIN|ESTHETIC [Beauty that runs in the family?]
84A: MALE|FACTION [Boys’ club?]
98A: CON|TEXTUALLY [Swindle by instant messaging?]
109A: INTER|RELATIONS [Use a family crypt?]

Each of this puzzle’s theme entries is a single word that, if given a break (as suggested by the title), can be re-read as a two word phrase that matches the clue. I think some of these worked better for me than others, though DEPART|MENTALLY and CON|TEXTUALLY were certainly my favorite themer / theme clue pairs.

Overall, I had a hard time getting traction in this puzzle for whatever reason, hence my much longer than average solve time. Did y’all experience that, too, or was I just having an off day? I particularly got stuck at the top, as once I put in YUTZ, I was confident that 7D was SNOOZE, which tripped me up for ages! Tricky tricky. :) All the same, congrats to our constructor today on his debut NYT puzzle! ::celebration emoji::

Other random thoughts:
– Loved seeing a Ted Lasso shout out at 14A SOCCER!
– I wonder if OLDS was originally clued as modern slang for non-young folks?
– I think the constructor’s original clue for ETYMOLOGY [German for kindergarten, say?] was more enjoyable than the replaced clue, but it was a nice aha moment figuring out the answer either way.

Bravo all around to this debut puzzle! Here’s to many more.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Forming a Bond” —Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Forming A Bond,” 3/18/2023

The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is the missing seventh theme answer, formed by combining two entries in the completed grid.

Our seven theme answers:

  • 23a [Stammering, initially incorrect response to the trivia question “Which Constitution State college is in the Ivy League?”] UCONN, ER, YALE
  • 37a [Pizza joint?] PEPPERONI VENDOR
  • 64a [Telephone some certain Buddhist onlooker?] CALL A ZEN BYSTANDER
  • 79a [Dunkable cookies that make you feel like a tough guy?] MACHISMO OREOS
  • 90a [Middle English and Latin, e.g.?] FEUDAL TONGUES
  • 109a [Monopoly company’s granny?] HASBRO’S NANA

Each of these contrived phrases disguise the last name of an actor who has played James Bond in film. In chronological order of first appearance, no less. So we’re looking for two entries that will produce Daniel CRAIG when combined.

As I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if they were in symmetrical positions?,” I find ACCRA and IGLOO, indeed in matching positions across from each other in this mirror symmetry grid. I wonder if Evan initially tried to include ACCRA IGLOO as a seventh themer within the grid, but regardless it was a satisfying (and not difficult) hunt for a little extra meta payoff.


  • 34a [Mario franchise character with a pink outfit and a mushroom head] TOADETTE. Almost all of my Mario knowledge is from Mario Kart, which seems to have a bunch of characters that don’t fit aesthetically with the Mario mainstays. I’m curious where Toadette fits into the franchise.
  • 43a [Semihard cheese first made in Prussia] TILSIT. I am just aware enough of TILSIT to be able to fill it in from a couple crosses, but not enough for the Prussia clue to be helpful or meaningful in anyway. It’s either a more common cheese than I know, or the Prussia element is particularly significant.
  • 55a [Donna who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Goldfinch”] TARTT. Ms. TARTT was pretty en vogue as a grid entry a few years ago, especially around the film adaptation of The Goldfinch in 2019. It’s nice to see her again.
  • 121a [, or, e.g. (any of which may come in handy for solving this meta)] URL. I didn’t need it this time, but I always appreciate a small pointer towards the meta. In this case, the inclusion of imdb points a solver toward film.
  • 124a [Bond, e.g.] SPY. Ha, another hint here that I definitely did not notice. I also did not notice the title before compiling this write up. That’s helpful, too.
  • 7d [Tennis star Stephens] SLOANE. Stephens has had something of an inconsistent career – she splashed onto the scene with an upset of Serena Williams in 2013, but had a few down years before a strong stretch and US Open title in 2017-18. She did make a run at the French Open last year, and is still a name to know among the collection of American talent in the sport.
  • 32d [Adam Sandler’s SNL character who would sing about the news on “Weekend Update”] OPERA MAN. Sandler reprised the character in a guest appearance in 2019.
  • 67d [Film score composer Rota] NINO. A new name to me, but his credits include The Godfather and La Dolce Vita, so that’s very much on me.

Universal, “Hidden Costs” by Guilherme Gilioli — norah’s write-up

THEME: None!




  • CHECKEREDFLAGS 4D [*Finish line sights]
  • CASHMERESWEATER 6D [*Soft winter wear]
  • CARDINALNUMBERS 8D [*They’re used for counting quantities]
  • UPFRONTPAYMENT 15D [Request for some preorders … or what you can find in the answers to the starred clues]


With the revealer being UPFRONTPAYMENT, it makes perfect sense that the revealers are presented both vertically (UP) and with the payment type (CHECK, CASH, CARD) at the FRONT of each entry – and may I also note at the “front” of the grid when read down. Quite elegant, and raises this one step from a traditional words-before-or-after theme type.

The rest of the grid fills in nicely. We have ARTDEALER 32D [One making money with other people’s work?] and TAKEADIVE 3D [Lose intentionally] each stacked next to a theme entry, making for an unusual placement for long bonuses.

Fun stuff with ALIG 55A [Character who asked Buzz Aldrin if the people on the moon were friendly].

Thanks Guilherme and the Universal team!

Dennis Nullet’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Upended”—Jim’s review

Theme answers (in the Down direction) are familiar phrases whose final (end) words are “upended” (written backwards) resulting in crossword wackiness.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Upended” · Dennis Nullet · 3.19.23

  • 3d. [Campaign literature?] VOTER DISTRICT SPAM. Maps. Hmm. That base phrase isn’t exactly in-the-language.
  • 7d. [Answer the call of the wild?] GO WITH THE WOLF. Flow. That’s much better. Solid base phrase and plenty of surface sense in the made-up phrase. Nice clue, too.
  • 13d. [Hot new font?] BLAZING SERIF. Fires. “Blazing fires” isn’t an in-the-language phrase either, and a serif does not a font make. This one just doesn’t work for me.
  • 25d. [Giant in the field?] ELEPHANT IN THE MOOR. Room. Another good one.
  • 37d. [Topic at an international barber’s convention?] WIDE WORLD OF STROPS. Sports. Fine, but a little nonsensical.
  • 62d. [Reason to ask, “Where’s the beef?!”?] HAMBURGER SNUB. Buns. Same as the last one.
  • 65d. [Star-crossed love?] ROMANTIC DOOM. Mood. Meh again. “Romantic mood” isn’t a colloquial phrase.

Hit and miss with these. Some are quite good and others not so good. The theme idea is great but I would’ve hoped for greater consistency in the entries.

Top fill: ZIG ZAG, TWO CENTS, SPIN A WEB, DAMASCUS, NUTRIENT, OREGANO. I’m on the fence with CAT-EYED, but it gets plenty of Google hits, so maybe it’s just me.

Clues of note:

  • 13a. [Gone bust?]. BROKEN. Needed nearly all the crosses here. Still having trouble interpreting this one.
  • 38d. [Football offense’s count]. ELEVEN. For a fleeting moment I was picturing Dracula as the starting quarterback.
  • 42d. [Digital companion in an online game] NEOPET. Huh. I thought Neopets was long dead, but apparently it’s back.
  • 72d. [“No kidding, Sherlock”]. DUH. That’s not the phrase we know and love.

Nice theme, but it felt inconsistent. 3.25 stars.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “The Last of Us” —Darby’s write-up

Editor: Erik Agard

Theme: The last letters of the two words in each theme answer spell out US.

Theme Answers

Zhouqin Burnikel's USA Today crossword, "The Last of Us" solution for 3/19/2023

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “The Last of Us” solution for 3/19/2023

  • 17a [“‘The Matrix’ star”] KEANU REEVES
  • 26a [“‘Beneath Still Waters’ singer”] EMMYLOU HARRIS
  • 61a [“‘The Fabous Baker Boys’ actor”] BEAU BRIDGES

Short review from me today, but I enjoyed this puzzle. Having US as the endings makes for difficulty in finding themers that work, I think, and so it makes sense that all of these are names. I got both BEAU BRIDGES and EMMYLOU HARRIS on the crosses, but KEANU REEVES was pretty easy to stick right in there. Obviously, this is an apt theme considering the prevalence and popularity of The Last of Us onHBO Max, which I admittedly haven’t watched because zombies freak me out, but still, I love that it themes this puzzle.

Other fill I liked includes MORE OR LESS and 27d [“Preparation for a political candidate”] MOCK DEBATE. RESIDUE, BASIL, and DOGSAT were also faves.

Alan Massengill & Doug Peterson’s LA Times crossword, “Bring It On” – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

The title and first answer should be enough to have tipped you to what is going on in today’s puzzle by Messrs. Peterson & Massengill. IT is added and wackiness ensues:

  • [Drill team for outlaws?], MARCHINGBANDITS
  • [Study up on Newton’s theories?], GRAVITYTRAIN
  • [Book club choices for a church group?], PULPITFICTION
  • [Vampire’s introspective question?], TOBITEORNOTTOBITE
  • [Unusual cold snap in England?], BRITAINFREEZE.
  • [Funny business in an Oregon city?], EUGENELEVITY
  • [“Now where did that minty cocktail go … “?], IVELOSTMYMOJITO. Best themer!


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13 Responses to Sunday, March 19, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: 1A was a gimme, which is rare for me, and I zipped through about ¾ of the grid, only to get a bit bogged down in the NW. I had PUTZ rather than YUTZ (and thanks, I know what “putz” really means in Yiddish); DARCY didn’t spring to mind until I had three or four letters; I couldn’t remember the name of the Taylor Swift tour; etc.

    It didn’t help that I read the clue for HI-DEF as “Extra crispy, informally.” I wracked my brain unsuccessfully thinking about nice, crispy fried chicken (which I haven’t eaten in years).

    Still finished in almost five minutes less than my average time.

    • JohnH says:

      I had most trouble with the NW, too, where DARCY was among my first entries. I also didn’t know “cornhole.” (RHUD assigns it a much, much different meaning.)

      Overall, the themers are groaners, and I suppose that means rating will be sharply split between those who smiled and those who shrugged. I mostly smiled, although MALEFACTION (as opposed to “malefactors”) isn’t exactly everyday vocabulary.

      I’m puzzled, though, by “He can be found above it” for NEON. Help?

  2. Iggystan says:

    Wasn’t just you, Nate. The NYT took me a little longer than usual too. I’m still trying to figure out how to solve faster using the NYT app. I used to do pencil and paper and found that much easier than the app.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      “Wasn’t just you, Nate. The NYT took me a little longer than usual too.” … +1

      I mostly enjoyed figuring out the themers, though there was definitely some wrangling involved. I just couldn’t get much traction anyway or get any momentum. The SW was a struggle (RESEEN and it’s clue are awful), but the NW was my undoing. Between ERAS, DARCY, A FEW ZS, DENY, AD SPACE, FEED LOT, SCREWY and YUTZ, I just had too much white space and not nearly enough reasonable guesses to fill it. I’m a little surprised that I somehow managed to pull META out of my brain and that the unusual OBTRUDES came to me off the OB or I’d have had an even more solid patch of blanks in that area.

      I may have benefitted by walking away from the puzzle and picking it up later, but I diligently record my solve times every day and the .puz file online app I use doesn’t allow me to pause the timer. As a result, I had my first NYT Sunday DNF in almost seven years. I seem to be getting worse and worse at this hobby lately.

      • David L says:

        That NW corner was mostly white space for me too, for a long time. I thought the cluing approached Stumpery vagueness. A city in Texas; an insect; the name of a Fortune 500 company; a yiddish word many of us had never heard of us; a German article; something that allegedly influenced Pink Floyd. RAP, ACE and SCREWY are perfectly good words but their clues were highly unspecific. And on top of all that AFEWZS…

        It was only figuring out DEPARTMENTALLY that let me complete that section.

        • Eric H says:

          The LAREDO clue is highly specific, at least in the app version of the puzzle. “Texas terminus of I-35” is at worst mildly ambiguous. One could read it as being the northern terminus of I-35 *in Texas* (more or less Gainesville, if you’re curious). But a much more natural reading would suggest the entirety of I-35, which should at least narrow it down to cities on the Mexican border.

          I knew the answer was LAREDO without having to think at all. I realize that wasn’t the case for everyone.

          A FEW ZS strikes me as a perfectly good entry that was very hard to get. I can’t think of a word in English that ends in ZS.

          DEPARTMENTALLY was the hardest theme answer for me to get. DEPoRTMENTALLY isn’t a word, but it looks like one, and Taylor Swift’s ERoS tour sounds legit, too.

          • David L says:

            You’re right, the Texas town is clued in a specific way but since I don’t like googling unless I’m totally stuck it was just a six-letter name. ELPASO or ODESSA, for example, seemed equally possible. Even DALLAS (some highways acquire other numbers at big intersections).

  3. cyberdiva says:

    @JohnH: Helium (He) is located above Neon on the periodic table.

  4. David L says:

    NYT was definitely harder than a typical Sunday. NW corner was the last to fall. I finally came up with META and DEPARTMENTALLY and those got me to the finish line. I also had PUTZ before YUTZ, which is new to me. The IDIOTTAX (huh?)/XANDER crossing was tough but X seemed like the only halfway plausible possibility.

    I found the WaPo on the harder side too. Only at the end did I understand what was going on with the themers, but then I figured out the meta very quickly. Huzzah!

    • Sophomoric Old Guy says:

      Agree with NYT being “harder” for whatever reason and took me longer. My last to fall was IDIOTTAX/XANDER. Had to go thru the alphabet to get the X.

      Also, not a big fan of 7-Down, AFEWZS for the clue Forty Winks. I get it, just don’t like it

  5. Eric H says:

    WaPo: I got ¾ through the grid with no idea of what the theme was, much less what the “missing theme answer” could be. I went for a bike ride (it’s a gorgeous day here in Austin, BTW). I came back to the puzzle and the BROSNAN of HASBRO’S NANA jumped right out. The missing Bond was pretty obvious, and it didn’t take long to find him. Can’t ask for an easier meta.

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