Sunday, June 11, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 12:11 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 10:45 (Jim) 


Universal 3:37 (norah) 


WaPo 4:41 (Matthew) 


Sam Ezersky’s New York Times crossword, “Words, Words, Words: A Themeless” — Nate’s write-up

06.11.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

06.11.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

This week, we’re treated to a gorgeous Sunday-sized themeless puzzle that accomplishes two amazing feats: sets the record for the fewest answers in a Sunday puzzle (118) while still dazzling with a wide array of fun entries and very little crosswordese. Oh, and there were 28 entries in this puzzle that’ve never been used before in a Will Shortz NYT puzzle. Wow! I’ll be interested to hear how this puzzle went for folks because it was a relatively quick and enjoyable solve for me. Some favorite entries include: BACKRONYM, DAIKON RADISH, JUST KIDDING, KID ACTORS, TIKI BARS, AIR KISS, STOP HATE, and CALLALOO.

Gorgeous grid design, expert puzzle construction, and a smooth solve. What more could you want? I hope you enjoyed it, too! (Okay, gotta run to a Pride event, so apologies for the short write-up – hope you’re well!)

Universal, “Themeless Sunday 37” by Rafael Musa — norah’s write-up





  • ⭐BUTTDIALED 16A [Made a cheeky call?]
  • SECRETSANTA 10D [Gift-giving game]
  • TRENDSETTER 11D [Influencer]
  • TIMEISMONEY 23D [Adage about efficiency]
  • IMEANCOMEON 24D [“Ugh, this is so frustrating!”]
  • ITSONTHEHOUSE 17D [“No need to pay for this round”]
  • UNDERTHERADAR 58A [Not getting noticed]
  • YOUAGAIN 54A [“Look who’s back”]


“Look who’s back!” Ultra smooth and fast today on this grid from Rafa that is packed with fun long entries, especially in the downs. A nice variety of cluing all over from the gentle misdirect of INTRANET 19A [Business connection?] to the play-on-a-name sort of STILES 22A [Actress Julia whose surname sounds fashionable] to the fun fitb of SCUSE 44A [“___ me!” (informal “Pardon!”)] to the delicious TEA 48A [Drink such as boba].

Thanks Rafa and the Universal team!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “On That Note” — Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “On That Note,” 6/11/2023

We’ve got a meta this week – we’re asked for “a rock song whose chorus you might sing after you solve the puzzle.”

Eight clues are starred:

  • 25a [Singer with the 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever”] DONNA LEWIS
  • 27a [Elton John song with a lyrics often parodied as “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”] TINY DANCER
  • 50a [Steely Dan hit that was the opening track to their debut album] DO IT AGAIN
  • 60a [Late sing whom Beyonce called “the epitome of power and passion”] TINA TURNER
  • 87a [No. 1 hit for the Shirelles about a man sent off to war] SOLDIER BOY
  • 96a [Song by John Lennon (1973) and Sickick (2017) whose title is a phrase meaning “psychological manipulation”] MIND GAMES
  • 116a [“Dr. Zhivago” melody] LARA’S THEME
  • 120a [Musical set during the Vietnam War] MISS SAIGON

This isn’t the most cohesive set – a mix of songs, artists, and a musical. But they are all music-related, which with the title and the meta prompt sets a pretty clear scene.

I’m not sure which of these I noticed first, but together they were a solid click:

1) The themers all start with the names of solfege notes — DONNA LEWIS, TINY DANCER, … SOLDIER BOY, etc
2) SOLFEGE is in the grid, at 129a in a lower right corner that caught my attention during the solve, for the somewhat-outdated OLESTRA

Ordering the notes, I got DO-TI-DO-TI-SOL-MI-LA-MI and could make zero sense of it. (In retrospect, my error was thinking the DO should be the lowest and TI the highest notes of the run, which actually works downward from DO.)

Evan helpfully reminded me to re-consider the title – looking at the squares “On” (or above) the notes from the themers, we can find the spelled out WE-AR-ET-HE-CHA-MP-IO-NS. So there’s our meta answer, “We Are The Champions” by Queen, perhaps one of the catchiest songs ever.

Note (ha) that this only works if you use the three-letter SOL spelling, and not “SO”. Just sayin’.

Other “notes” (ha):

  • 4a [Coach Parseghian with a palindromic name] ARA. Parseghian is a legend of college football, best known for his tenure at Notre Dame, but is on the side of “old crosswordese” for my money. Maybe we can wrangle up a young actor name ARA De Armas to start in the next Knives Out movie.
  • 23a [Site of Hecettepe University in Turkey] ANKARA. This is a new cluing angle for me. A little bit of Googling reveals that Hacettepe is considered the top university in the country.
  • 25a [*Singer with the 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever”] DONNA LEWIS. I was introduced to this song by the pop singer Betty Who, who had a bit of a moment in the mid-2010s. Both versions are good listens, and sing-alongs.
  • 55a [Facial hair grown during Movember, briefly] STACHE. I’ve seen this cancer-awareness project called both “Movember” and “No-Shave November.” Though I’ve known of it for 10 or so years now, I see that a 501(c)3 was set up in 2020 around the concept.
  • 2d [With 35 Down, narrow versions of a classic cookie] OREO THINS. Just me being nitpicky, but I sure do like cross-referenced clues more when the entries are closer to each other in the grid. In this case, 35d is only one entry down and one over from 2d.
  • 52d [Enterprise agreement] AYE SIR. As in the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise.
    54d [Storm-tracking org.?] WNBA. As in the Seattle Storm. The WNBA in particular seems to have excellent team names for puzzle wordplay — solvers would do well to familiarize themselves with the list of twelve.
  • 85d [V six or V eight, maybe] GEESE. As GEESE famously fly in ‘V’ shapes.

Pam Amick Klawitter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Leg Warmers”—Jim’s review

Types of pants are found stretched out and are identified with circled letters within familiar phrases. The revealer is STRETCH PANTS (116a, [Comfy leggings … and a hint to the circled letters]).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Leg Warmers” · Pam Amick Klawitter · 6.11.23

  • 22a. [Property co-owners] JOINT TENANTS. Jeans.
  • 32a. [Professional fixers] TROUBLESHOOTERS. Trousers.
  • 47a. [Engaging in youthful flings] SOWING ONE‘S WILD OATS. Sweats.
  • 67a. [Go headlong after one’s dreams] CHASE RAINBOWS. Chinos.
  • 84a. [Where to learn life lessons] SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS. Slacks.
  • 104a. [Air Force Academy locale] COLORADO SPRINGS. Capris.

Nice! I’m not a big fan of “one’s” phrases, but all of these are common, in-the-language terms, so no harm no foul.

What struck me is that each clothing item is stretched from the first letter in the phrase to the last. That may just be coincidence, but I suspect it’s more by design to ensure each item is truly stretched. For example, SLACKS can be found in “Stonewall Jackson” but it doesn’t stretch from beginning to end as it does in SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS. I wouldn’t have dinged the puzzle for an entry that didn’t stretch to the end, but I will note that it’s an elegant touch that all of them do.

We have plenty of nice fill to accompany the theme in the likes of PROMPOSAL (new to me, but inferable), TANTRUMS, IDLE CHAT, “COOL IT,” “SEE TO IT,” CHICANERY, MCJOBS, and “OH GOSH.”

Clues of note:

  • 11a. [Savage X Fenty purchase]. BRA. Savage X Fenty is Rihanna’s lingerie brand.
  • 19a. [Princess sporting “cinnamon buns”]. LEIA. 8d. [Kylo of “Star Wars”]. REN. Mother and son crossing each other in the grid and no cross-reference?
  • 38a. [Not at work (Abbr.)]. OOO. I don’t see this cluing angle very often so I had to think for a bit before remembering “out of office.”
  • 44a. [Goldfish in “Pinocchio”]. CLEO. From the Disney film. I’m assuming there was no CLEO in the original Carlo Collodi story.
  • 13d. [Cleeves behind “Vera” and “Shetland”]. ANN. Who else got this right because they were thinking of Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife) and not the British crime writer?
  • 74d. [Regretful cries]. AYS. Hmm. I’m not hearing regret. Mostly I think of Fonzie from Happy Days.

Good puzzle. Four stars.

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21 Responses to Sunday, June 11, 2023

  1. JohnH says:

    I’ll certainly be in a small minority on the NYT here, since this one is tailor-made for hard-core solvers like this group. It has its record for the books and, wow, themeless! Amy has often expressed her preference for themeless.

    For me, themes aren’t a distraction or annoyance but a huge draw. (My favorite puzzles are variety cryptics .) They’re especially important to me on Sunday, because of its size. I had to make myself keep going long enough. But no question it’s well constructed. Oh, well. My hardest was the SW.

    When I read that the constructor was the online puzzles editor, I did hesitate to begin. I sure hope he wasn’t in on the decision to stop posting the second Sunday puzzle online. Last, a question. Why is 101 for INTRO CLASS in small type?

    • Jim G says:

      We might be in the minority, but I’m with you—I like themes (and love cryptics), and I found today’s puzzle dull. Not just because it didn’t have a theme, but because the answers and cluing just didn’t have any “zing” for me. Lots of answers that were either dully obvious or (from my perspective) esoteric trivia I either knew or didn’t. And while there were some clever clues, there weren’t nearly enough to bring a themeless to life, IMO.

    • marciem says:

      Count me in your minority, I look forward to Sunday theme-puzzles. Now it seems more and more are going themeless and it makes me sad. Bring back Merl Reagle :'( ! (I finished the books I bought of his)

      That said, I did enjoy this one, as there seemed quite a few sparklers in the words words words. I recognize the constructor as the Spelling Bee creator so that’s fine, and I’ll look for some of the words coming soon to the Bee :) . Yegg has been a favorite word of mine, I don’t recall seeing in on SB (yet).

    • Dallas says:

      I agree totally. I’ve come to appreciate the Friday and Saturday themeless more and more as I’ve been solving, but what I love about the Sunday is the large space and ability to do themes that you can’t get in a weekday space, and lots of opportunities to be inventive. A Sunday themeless can feel like just “more” crossword, and missing that opportunity. Anyway… off to do the LAT and WaPo Sundays next… :-)

    • Me says:

      I am in your minority as well. I generally don’t do Sunday themelesses (and I didn’t do this one so I’m not making a comment about this puzzle specifically).

  2. Josh M says:

    Best Sunday NYT puzzle ever. Themes are (almost always) annoying and not worth the sacrifices to construction, IMO. Maybe best weekend NYT ever, with a (finally) genuinely hard Saturday yesterday. If every puzzle could be like those 2 I’d be happy.

    • huda says:

      I might be in the in between category who feels there is a place for both themed and themeless on Sunday.
      Themes can be fun, sometimes really entertaining. But sometimes, the themes on Sundays are too strained and/or the fill gets to be too clunky. A themeless is a nice change of pace.
      I liked today’s quite a bit.

  3. David L says:

    NYT: Well, it was certainly a crossword and was filled with ‘words, words, words…’ I was amused to see CALLALOO in the puzzle, because it’s one of those silly words I learned from the Spelling Bee and frequently forget. Evidently Sam E. thinks it is well-known…

    (The fact that the puzzle sets a record for the fewest words … not something your average solver cares one hoot about, I would think).

    WaPo: I thought I had the meta. I saw the notes heading each of the starred answers, and tried googling to see what tune they played out. No luck with that. And then I didn’t look any further.

  4. Eric H says:

    NYT: I’d rather have a themeless Sunday puzzle than one with a theme that doesn’t appeal to me — and there are plenty of the latter.

    Mostly a quick, smooth solving experience. Then at the end, the app said I had a mistake. ALGAe BLOOM made perfect sense, and I didn’t check the cross and notice the unlikely eARA JANE (I’ve heard of “To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before,” but had no idea of the character’s name).

    I’m less impressed by the low word count than by the high number of words making their NYT puzzle debuts. Solving a puzzle can sometimes feel rote because you see the same entries over and over. It’s nice to have some fresh ones in the mix.

    • JohnH says:

      Seems to me that defenders of the puzzle like you and huda are being most unfair to us critics. You’re at best attacking a straw man.

      Surely no one is saying that having a theme alone justifies a puzzle or that themed puzzles can’t be just terrible. Indeed, Sunday puzzles have consistently been rated poorly and criticized far more often than daily ones. And I just came from criticizing the Saturday WSJ theme. We’re only saying, as others here have put better than I could, that a themeless, at least on the scale of Sunday, can be tedious and a hugely missed opportunity. Surely you can see the difference?

      In other words a themed Sunday’s quality may be ll over the map, but a themeless Sunday runs a specially high risk of turning us off. Maybe Words Words Words could have been a good theme. Polonius and Hamlet are still wondering.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Apparently I’ve missed something. When did Huda and/or Eric “attack a straw man”? I sure don’t find evidence of it in their comments about today’s puzzle. It seems to me that they’re two of the more thoughtful commenters out here. Where are you coming from?

        While I’m sure that neither Huda nor Eric need me to come to their defense, I finally feel compelled to respond to one of your derisive comments. Why do you so often seem to be picking a fight?

        • Eric H says:

          Thank you, sanfranman59.

          I didn’t think I was attacking anyone.

          And I can’t imagine Huda ever doing so. She (I think that’s right) seems like a genuinely caring person.

  5. MattF says:

    Liked the NYT puzzle, but tripped up, perhaps embarrassingly, on 32D and 53A. As a Cornell alum, I’m accustomed to describing the dramatic features of campus topography as ‘gorges’ and -not- cliffs. And, to me, the intestinal adjective in 53A is ILIAC, not ILEAC.

  6. Eric H says:

    WaPo: Does it count if I got the meta simply from the prompt? “We Are the Champions” popped into my head immediately when I read the note.

    I knew the meta hinged on somehow applying the SOLFÈGE answer, but I needed a hint from one of the comments here to see the DO, TI, DO stuff — and even then, I assumed we were to connect the syllables to the pitches they represent to get the song’s tune (something my nonexistent musical skills don’t allow me to do).

    Pretty clever that the lyrics are right there for us nonmusical types.

    • jefe says:

      Same here. I saw the notes after noticing SOLFEGE and banged them into the piano app I have on my phone. Didn’t get it right away since the note lengths aren’t indicated, but I eventually realized they matched if I tapped in the correct rhythm (Weeee are the cham-pions, my frie-ends). Never would’ve seen the letters on top of the notes.

      Amazing, Evan!

      • Eric H says:

        You’re saying the notes actually track the melody of the song?

        Wow. That is amazing.

        I need to learn to be a bit more patient when I try to solve Evan Birnholz’s metas. They’re always so elegantly constructed and I just don’t give myself enough time with them.

  7. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: Fun & breezy puzzle for the most part and the constructor did a fine job. The editor didn’t make the clues too cutesy & coy, like they usually do.

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