Sunday, June 4, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 12:45 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:51(Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 11:49 (Jim) 


Universal 4:35 (norah) 


WaPo untimed (Matthew) 


Rafael Musa’s New York Times crossword, “Flying Colors” — Nate’s write-up

06.04.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

06.04.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

17A (entry shaded red): ON AND OFF [Intermittently]
18A: RED STATES [They’re right on an election map … or a description of 17-Across?]

37A (entry shaded orange): STEROIDS [Olympics no-nos]
33A: ORANGE JUICE [Screwdriver components … or a description of 37-Across?]

48A (entry shaded yellow): DARK ROOM [Negative space?]
51A: YELLOW LAB [Marley in “Marley & Me,” e.g. … or a description of 48-Across?]

76A (entry shaded green): CASSETTE [Device with a pair of spools]
73A: GREEN TAPE [Bureaucracy surrounding environmental regulations … or a description of 76-Across?]

93A (entry shaded blue): PEA COATS [Double-breasted outerwear]
95A: BLUE JACKETS [N.H.L. team from Ohio … or a description of 93-Across?]

111A (entry shaded violet): BRADBURY [“The Martian Chronicles” author]
108A: VIOLET RAY [Bygone medical device used in electrotherapy … or a description of 111-Across?]

57A / 58A: PRIDE / FLAG [With 58-Across, what’s represented by this puzzle’s colored “stripes”]

As soon as I saw the byline and the colorful grid, I knew we were in for a treat! Each color-shaded entry is described playfully using a colorful phrase next door – kind of like having six different mini-revealers in the same puzzle, all to create a gorgeous PRIDE / FLAG puzzle.

Even though parts of the grid (especially the top third!) felt tough to fill in at times, I finished this puzzle more quickly than most Sunday puzzles.  Some of the trickier fill was almost certainly a result of having essentially six full rows of theme-related entries, with most down entries crossing one or more of those rows – wow at those constraints. That said, 1A DUNBAR crossing 1D DRAY was one of the only squares in the grid I wasn’t 100% sure about, but thankfully I guessed correctly. A tough way to start off the puzzle, but a satisfying guess to finish it off.

Bravo to Rafa for a gorgeous design, fun idea, and wonderful execution! And Happy Pride – especially as things have gotten quite scary for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community lately, it is more important than ever to be proud of who we are. I hope you’re all having a wonderful June and, if relevant, a gorgeous Pride!

Gary Larson & Amy Ensz’s LA Times crossword, “Shh!” — Jack’s write-up

Theme entries are common phrases with an “s” sound turned into an “sh” sound to make new wacky phrases with wacky clues.

June 4th, 2023 LA Times crossword solution — “Shh!” by Gary Larson and Amy Ensz

  • 23A. [Startling revelation for a couch potato?] = TUBE SHOCK (Tube sock)
  • 25A. [Menu of family-sized KFC options?] = BUCKET SHEET (Bucket seat — a car seat that contours to the body)
  • 36D. [Food Network production featuring a chef’s work surface?] = COUNTER SHOOT (Countersuit, as in lawsuit)
  • 41D. [Sweeping segment of a prop comic’s act?] = BROOM SCHTICK (Broomstick)
  • 50A. [Full-time employee at a corn processing plant?] = ALL DAY SHUCKER (All day sucker — a Stevie Wonder song and also a type of lollipop)
  • 82A. [Did too much heavy lifting?] = OVER-SCHLEPPED (Overslept)
  • 107A. [Really, really cheap liquor?] = DOLLAR SHINE (Dollar sign)
  • 111A. [Ruse for crashing family reunions?] = UNCLE SHAM (Uncle Sam)

I appreciate the consistency in this theme. All of the “s” -> “sh” changes occur at the start of the second half of the base phrases. I like that it’s focused on the sound rather than the spelling. This leeway allows for my favorite themers BROOM SCHTICK and OVER-SCHLEPPED (I have a soft spot for Yiddishisms).

8 themers is a lot, even on a Sunday and the grid is quite clean considering. I noticed a pileup of unusual answers. Not bad answers. Not necessarily great ones. But unusual in a way that made me perk up a few times during the solve. Things like ONE EYE, LEONINE, GO UP, GOOIER, DIE CUTS, PRIORY, HBCU (historically black college or university), WORMED, MUSHER, JPOP. Again, these aren’t sparkling entries, but they’re not unreasonably obscure, and they’re definitely not your everyday fill either. I wouldn’t want all of my puzzles to lean on fill like this, but it worked for me today.

I liked the cluing throughout the puzzle. The clues put up resistance without feeling like a chore. I also felt like I could hear the constructor’s voices. As a small example, 80A. HAD is about as uninteresting a word as words get. Yet pairing it with the clue [Hornswoggled] suddenly brings it to life. Now, the boring HAD gives an image of a con job. Not to mention that hornswoggled is about as fun of a word as words get.

A few other thoughts:

  • 15D. [Ball-shaped] = SPHERIC. I only ever use the word “spherical.” Some dictionaries suggest that this variant is archaic. I wonder if that should have been signified in the clue somehow.
  • 40D. [Buzz] = RUMOR. Good, tough clue.
  • 68A. [Pride sound] = ROAR. Another toughie. I was thinking pride as in ego or as in pride parade before a pride of lions snapped into focus.
  • 79D. [Research on a political rival, briefly] = OPPO. This shorthand is new to me.
  • 39A. [Rowan Atkinson character] = MR. BEAN. My favorite entry in the grid.

Sam Koperwas & Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Wrongful Terminations”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are idioms that are normally good things, but when taken literally in certain work-related scenarios might lead to getting canned.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Wrongful Terminations” · Sam Koperwas and Jeff Chen · 6.4.23

  • 22a. [“It’s so unfair! I lost my job making boomerangs, even after I ___!”] STRAIGHTENED THINGS OUT.
  • 29a. [“I got fired as a Zamboni driver, even after I ___!”] TRIED TO BREAK THE ICE.
  • 49a. [“I got canned as a taxi driver, even after I ___!”] WENT THE EXTRA MILE.
  • 70a. [“I lost my job roping cattle with the ranch crew, even after I ___!”] KEPT EVERYONE IN THE LOOP.
  • 88a. [“I got fired from making hedge mazes, even after I ___!”] GOT LOST IN THE WORK.
  • 106a. [“I was terminated at Nissan’s electric car factory, even after I ___!”] TURNED OVER A NEW LEAF.
  • 118a. [“I got fired from making keyboards, even after I ___!”] PUT IN ADDITIONAL SHIFTS.

I like a good imaginative theme, and these were quite nice. Each entry is solidly colloquial (well, in the last entry, I think people would say “extra shifts,” not “additional shifts,” but it’s close enough), and the clues are humorous without being forceful. I think I liked the hedge maze and car factory entries most of all.

The Sea of AZOV

Lots to like in the fill as well. I think my favorite entry is the [Polite dismissal] “PLEASE GO.” But other goodies include ZEROED OUT, WIND SPEED, IXNAY, HOTWIRE, and WON TON. I needed all the crossings for [Russian sea] AZOV after plunking in ARAL too quickly. Turns out the Sea of AZOV is what separates Russia from Ukraine, so we should all probably know that one.

There are a lot of 3-letter words in this grid, even for a 21x. 35 in fact (plus an additional 42 4-letter words). The reason for that lies in the fact that we have seven long theme answers, all of which are 16-letters long or longer. When there’s that much theme material, constructors need to separate them in order to manageably fill the grid. The good news is that I hardly noticed during the solve since the short fill is quite clean for the most part.

FRITO pies

Clues of note:

  • 10d. [“Far out, man!”]. “RAD!” Hey, now. “Far out” was in the 60s/70s. “RAD” was in the 80s. You’d never hear a Valley Girl say “far out.”
  • I like when unrelated successive entries are connected by their clues. One example in this grid is 21d’s [Steve Martin’s scheming sergeant in 1996] for BILKO and 23d’s [Jim Carrey’s scheming meanie in 2000] for GRINCH.
  • 51d. [“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” speaker]. TYSON. Never heard that quote, but it’s a good one.
  • 57d. [Gov. position turned down by Daniel Webster, allegedly saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin”]. VEEP. Interesting bit of trivia, but it doesn’t really work for me since VEEP is a modern abbreviation of the job.
  • 61d. [Neo, to Trinity]. THE ONE. I’ve seen all the Matrix films, but even so, I didn’t connect this clue to the movies at first glance.
  • 100d. [State where the fuzz is in plain sight?]. MOLDY. Hmm. MOLDY is an adjective. The clue sounds like it wants a noun, no?
  • 110d. [___ pie (“walking” chili treat served in a bag)]. FRITO. I’ve heard of “Frito pie,” but never have I ever imagined that it was served in a FRITO bag. Yikes.

Good puzzle. Four stars.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Rapid Rise” — Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Rapid Rise,” 6/4/23

Now that I see it in a puzzle, the 19-letter phrase THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY has been calling out to anchor down (heh) a revealer spot in a puzzle for a while now. In this puzzle, six across entries need more space than the grid provides to match the clues, and they find that space in diagonal stretches of circles extending upwards, as an escalator does. Better yet, each string of circled letters is a synonym for “Quick.” Lovely work.

House packing for my coming move is later this week, so I’m very out of sorts and forced to be a bit quick-hitter today:

I’m often find mirror symmetry jarring, but I quite like the effect here, with no need to find a partner entry to the revealer. I also quite like that some of the diagonal stretches cross clusters of black squares — see TOM SWIFTIES and REFASTEN.

Clue highlights: misdirection of “Senators” to get to O CANADA (The Senators are Ottawa’s NHL team); “card payment” referring to ANTE; the alliteration in [Fussily fashionable fellow] for FOP

Today I learned: there are TEN ink blots in the Rorschach test.

If you say so: PEA SALAD [Legume-based dish] is apparently A Thing.

Universal, “Themeless Sunday 36” by Craig Stowe — norah’s write-up





  • SWEARJAR 1A [Fine way to discourage cursing?]
  • ENCHANTE 34A [Nice “Nice to meet you”?]
  • BURSTS 57A [Reacts to hyperinflation?]
  • HOTMINUTE 31D [Brief moment or a long time]
  • POMELOS 36A [Grapefruits’ kin]


A fun puzzle to kick off my run of Sunday solves. One of my favorite things about doing these reviews is finding entries that are missing or underscored on my own lists. Today, that’s HOTMINUTE, JOINEDIN, and SLAMDUNKS. great stuff. What a strong opener with SWEARJAR, leading to a fun and smooth solve. Good amount of scrabbly crunch provided by PUREJOY and PIANOBAR, as well crossings like STEW/WINE and SPURT / PANG / ANGST.

Thanks Craig and the Universal team!

Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Eye on the Ball” — Darby’s write-up

EditorErik Agard

Theme: Each theme answer had an eye “I” on the ball “O” in a Down answer.

Theme Answers

Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, "Eye on the Ball" solution for 6/4/2023

Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Eye on the Ball” solution for 6/4/2023

  • 4d “Vitamin C or E, for example”] ANTIOXIDANT
  • 5d [“Spicy condiment”] CHILI OIL
  • 15d [“Home to Skyline Chili”] CINCINNATI, OHIO
  • 31d [“Organization in ‘Star Wars’”] JEDI ORDER

I mean, a puzzle that has a Star Wars themer and an OHIO themer?? I could only be happier if it was a Cleveland reference (though at least 38d [“Brewers hat”] BALL CAP gave me another baseball nod). I thought this was a pretty cute theme; it was very straightforward and easy to parse out, right from when I filled in CINCINNATI, OHIO, which was one of the first Down answers I hit upon.

This puzzle was asymmetric, and its shape lent itself to a lot of opportunities for fill, like 33a [“Cuisine with hummus and sfouf”] LEBANESE, 53a [“Unable to stop watching”] ENTRANCED, and 60a [“Singapore or the Vatican”] CITY STATE. I also particularly appreciated the nod to NATALIE Diaz in 40a [“‘Postcolonial Love Poem’ author Diaz”].

Altogether, I cruised through this, coming in under four minutes, but it was a fun ride with great references throughout.

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31 Responses to Sunday, June 4, 2023

  1. xepia says:

    NYT – Always great to see a bit of representation in a mainstream showcase, but How On Earth did DESEXED (116a.) make it into an LGBTQIA+ themed puzzle, given … well, queer history??

    • Eric H says:

      I agree that’s an off-putting entry, especially in a Pride-themed puzzle.

      But from my limited experience in constructing puzzles, I’ve learned that sometimes, you end up with a word in the grid that you simply can’t eliminate — nothing else will work in that slot. At that point, you have to decide whether it’s worth it to keep the yucky word or if you should just abandon the grid.

      • damefox says:

        This is true, but arguably if the word DESEXED is appearing in a puzzle that is meant to be a Pride Month tribute, you need to abandon the grid. Also, in this case it could have been removed — SCHEMED or DELETED are both options for that slot — but if you wanted to stop short of having to refill a *huge* chunk of the grid, some of the crossing fill would have been made considerably worse (LTE/EPS/TREX is much better than either LTC/EPH/TREM or LTE/EPL/TRET, even if you could convince yourself all of those words are valid). So it depends on where your priorities are.

        I’ll be interested to see what the NYT does for the rest of Pride Month. If this is the only “tribute” puzzle it has lined up, I’ll be a little disappointed. A tribute to the rainbow flag is all well and good (I made three 5×5 puzzles that incorporated that theme a couple years ago over at Crosshare), but as others have noted, there is a distinct lack of actual LGBTQIA+ content in this puzzle. If this is the only Pride Month-related puzzle the NYT runs this year, it will feel like lip service. We’ll have to see what the next few weeks look like.

        • Eric H says:

          That’s my point. I’m not sure LTC/EPH/TREM and EPL/TRET *are* words (though EPH is probably an abbreviation for “Ephesians,” not that I much care for “books of the Bible” as a category of answers).

          All I can assume is that Rafael Musa decided the tradeoff of including DESEXED was worth it. I’d like to assume that he tried to eliminate it and decided it was better than the options.)

          I’d have to go back to the NYT archives to see how many Pride- or LGBTQ+-themed puzzles they’ve typically run in June. I’d expect it’s more than one, at least in recent years.

          • xepia says:

            Perhaps DOEEYED could have done the job, with only EPE (eg, “Elvis Presley Enterprises”) as a bit of a tradeoff?

            That’s quite what editing is for, I think.

            (And yes, let’s hope for more to come!)

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      It’s a valid word, clued with a clinical meaning that has nothing to do with LGBTQIA+. If you’re not looking to get offended by it, there’s really no need to be.

      • xepia says:

        Coincidentally, some of the worst times in LGBTQIA+ history were when it was clinical.

        But of course not going to argue about individual experiences. If it passes your breakfast test, good for you.

  2. JohnH says:

    I sure wanted to applaud a theme recognizing pride, and had do admire a puzzle with not just all those obvious theme entries, in color, but twice as many plus a pair of revealers. Had to understand, too, if that puts constraints on the constructor, leading to some bad fill.

    Still, I came off luke warm, where not all the themers worked for me, in part no doubt my fault in just not knowing them, if you want to blame solvers with old habits. Or not. Also, although the setter has nothing to do with this, the colors in the print magazine match up terribly. I’d have called the red orange and the orange yellow, although then a yellow followed. (The first looks a tad pink purple but good enough in Nat’s post, but that’s not what I meant.) Fortunately, most everyone can rely on memory for the colors or simply look up an image online.

    • JohnH says:

      Maybe I should have specified: the ones I didn’t know were YELLOW LAB, BLUE JACKETS, and VIOLET RAY, and I entered “off and on” first. I also got defeated in the SW. I didn’t remember APIA, didn’t know ALF, and had trouble guessing what they wanted for media. I was drawn to Web TV, which gave me AWF, and I figured, oh, they want an acronym, and that’s “average white female,” right? But then ID CARD was obvious, and Wed TV looked wrong. I had to give up.

    • Arthur Shapiro says:

      The .puz conversion didn’t have the colors, and I didn’t notice the associated “Note” until after solving the puzzle. Still, it was quite an easy Sunday so, if anything, having the colors would have been an unnecessary spoiler.

      Even the psychiatrist with whom I was having coffee while solving the puzzle had never heard of the “violet ray”. He asserted that the VA facility where he works doesn’t apparently use the contraption.

  3. RSP64 says:

    Being partially color blind made this a little more challenging. I had to ask my wife what a few of the colors were.

  4. placematfan says:

    I’m really impressed with the NYT gridflow; with that much theme real estate, the constructor could easily have chosen the Section It Off approach to construction, where you isolate corners and areas that you sick your wordfiller on rather than on the entire grid–that approach is always tempting as it makes construction so much simpler, but it usually results in one puzzle that feels like three or five minipuzzles. The absence of sectioned-off areas here is, I think, the highlight of a beautiful grid.

  5. Dan says:

    Re the LAT puzzle: I was not crazy about the clue/answer combo “Backs (out)” for OPTS.

    To “opt out” of something means precisely to choose not to participate in it. I don’t believe it carries any sense at all of changing one’s mind, or backing out of something one had previously chosen to participate in.

    • David L says:

      Agree. I thought that was an odd clue. Cute puzzle overall, though, especially if you imagine Will Ferrell as Sean Connery saying the theme answers.

  6. Tony says:

    NYT – Loved seeing VIOLET RAY for BRADBURY. Not too difficult and once you got the first set of answers, you understood the puzzle.

    The one clue/entry I didn’t like was “Cry before overfime.” I’ve never heard anyone cry out “It’s a tie!” at the end of regulation.

    • Mr. [moderately] Grumpy says:

      Exactly! You would only say that if it’s a sport/game that does NOT go into OT.

      • Dan says:

        I find it to be entirely natural that someone might casually say “It’s a tie” when a *tied* game needed to go to overtime.

        It doesn’t have to be seen as a final pronouncement on the game.

    • DougC says:

      There was a lot to like in this puzzle, but also a few rough spots, as others have noted. Mine was a personal Natick at the intersection of GNC and CLERIC. I guessed GNA, and “Aleric” sounded reasonable as a character’s name. I’m sure others knew at least one of these, but I didn’t, and didn’t care enough about vitamin stores or D&D to wrestle with it, so took the DNF.

  7. Eric H says:

    WaPo: I missed that the circled letters spell synonyms for “quickly.” That’s a nice touch, and it makes the revealer work even better. (I find that circled letters can be a bit hard to read, and when they’re on a diagonal, they slow me down a bit solving online.)

    I got a little hung up in the middle, having TAMaRA as the unknown-to-me author and interpreting “Sprites” in the 57D clue as a mythical being, not doses of high fructose corn syrup.

    • Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

      The Tamora Pierce novels are great reads — especially for girls wanting to read about female champions.

      • Eric H says:

        Thanks. I haven’t paid attention to YA fiction in over 50 years.

        • Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

          My daughter was reading them about 20 years ago, and I actually just revisited some of them. Still charming.

  8. Dan says:

    Re WaPo Sunday puzzle: I did not like the clue/answer combo 55A “Strand on one’s head” for TRESS. That is *not* what “tress” means. (It is a lock or plait of hair, not just one strand.)

    Maybe it was fate that this entry intersected the answer to the 57D clue “Sprites and such” for SODA POPS. Ugh!!! That word (a collective noun) looks really bad in plural!

  9. Eric H says:

    Universal Sunday: “110d. [___ pie (“walking” chili treat served in a bag)]. FRITO. I’ve heard of “Frito pie,” but never have I ever imagined that it was served in a FRITO bag. Yikes.”

    My husband and I make a pretty good pot of chili, if I do say so. We typically eat it as Frito pies, which work quite well in a bowl.

    The punny clues mostly worked for me. It took a bit to see how the Nissan clue was going to work, even though I knew it had to involve A NEW LEAF.

  10. Dallas says:

    Loved the NYT Pride / Flag today; such a fun puzzle. Somehow the clues just clicked in for me; I was in Columbus when the BLUE JACKETS came there, played some D&D as a teen, ALF was all over BlueSky so came to mind quickly, and even James ENSOR from the They Might Be Giants song… just a real pleasure. Had to look up DRAY later, though :-)

  11. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I would argue that “Slow-moving creature” (79A in the NYT puzzle) essentially clues the word SLOTH by that word’s root, which is generally considered bad form.

  12. Paul says:

    Dunbar’s number took a hit back in 2021. Maybe it should take a pass or go away altogether as more researchers look into it.

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