Sunday, June 25, 2023

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 22:18 (Nate) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 12:49 (Jim) 


Universal 4:12 (norah) 


WaPo 6:13 (Matthew) 


John Westwig’s New York Times crossword, “Opposites Attracting” — Nate’s write-up

06.25.23 Sunday New York TImes Crossword

06.25.23 Sunday New York TImes Crossword

– 22A: IN OUTING [Event at a hot new club?]
– 24A: SHORT LONGING [“I wish I were under four feet tall,” e.g.]
– 38A: PRO CONNING [Career for a scammer?]
– 67A: SPRING FALLING [Slinky?]

(72A – Not a themer, though it was similarly ? clued with a -NG ending, which totally tricked me for a while!)
– 91A: ODD EVENING [Dinner date that makes a good story?]
– 109A: WHOLE PARTING [A kiss, a hug, a wave, the works?]
– 112A: ON OFFING [Title of an essay by a hit man?]
– 37A: EASY HARDING [“Whoa there, Warren G.!”]
– 41A: NICE MEANING [Compliment for a lexicographer?]

I really enjoyed this theme, especially with how solidly each one landed for me. It’s an impressive theme set, especially with nine themers spread throughout the puzzle. The rub, though, was that I think that hampered the fill in some places. There were areas of the grid where I just could not get traction, as reflected by my much slower than average solve time (for me, at least) noted above. Entries like HOW DE DO, DIM OUTS (just two lines before IN OUTING, which felt like a big dupe), SHILO, SAND GLASS, ADOLPH, FBI SPY, and OF A LIFETIME (such a partial!) stumped me. I also think I just wasn’t on the wavelength of some of the cluing to get things to fill in just right. You’ll see that I tried to enter EXOTIC rather than EROTIC because I couldn’t parse MING ERA and presumed MINGEXA must just be something I didn’t know. Whoops! :)

All the same, I’m glad to have solved this puzzle for the theme alone. I wonder if there were any left on the cutting room floor – can y’all think of any fun phrases (and apt clues) that might work for this theme? Two other theme thoughts: (1) I wonder if the EASY HARDING clue was originally clued via ice skater Tonya? (2) I want to guess that either SPRING FALLING or NICE MEANING was the inspiration for this puzzle – what fun sparks!

What did you think of the puzzle? Let us know in the comments below – and have a great weekend!

Universal, “Themeless Sunday 39” by Jess Rucks — norah’s write-up





  • HOLYBUCKETS 17A [“My goodness,” to a Minnesotan]
  • MASALACHAI 17A [It means “mixed-spice tea” in Hindi]
  • YOUBETCHA 1D [“Fer sure!”]
  • ELASTIGIRL 49A [Mom pulled in many directions?]
  • SALSADIPS 28D [Chip accompaniments that may contain cream cheese]
  • TONE 13A [Part of nonverbal communication, surprisingly]


This one is just a little more open at 70 words and 34 blocks, allowing for nice flow between the sections and especially through the middle. Super clean grid! Never heard HOLYBUCKETS before, but this along with YOUBETCHA and SALSADIPS that contain cream cheese, I’m getting a *real* midwestern vibe from this one. Jess, if you’re out there, say hi! :)

I learned: the yield sign was invented in TULSA. who knew!?

Thanks Jess and the Universal team!

Garrett Chalfin’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Up and Down Markets”—Jim’s review

Theme: Words that can precede “market” are found in the circled squares. In addition, pairs of entries (marked by asterisks) use those squares in either the up or down direction.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Up and Down Markets” · Garrett Chalfin · 6.25.23

  • 24a [*Chemist’s cooler] & 40a [*Event with recruiters and employers]. LABFAIR & CAREZER combine with FREE (in two directions) to become LAB FREEZER & CAREER FAIR.
  • 57a. [*Urgent note] & 74a. [*Nuclear discharge type]. SEEMISSION & BETONCE combine with MEAT to become SEE ME AT ONCE & BETA EMISSION.
  • 59a. [*First game of the year] & 77a. [*Web surveys during election season]. SEASONOLLS & ONLINER combine with OPEN to become SEASON OPENER & ONLINE POLLS.
  • 97a. [*1983 holiday comedy] & 116a. [*Comedian in “Bridesmaids”]. ACHRISTMCCARTHY & MELISTORY combine with MASS to become A CHRISTMAS STORY & MELISSA MCCARTHY.

Whew! This must’ve been a difficult construction with trying to find pairs of entries that fit together and of course symmetrically in the grid. That last pair is an impressive find.

No doubt, since it was probably so difficult to find suitable theme answers, there are some trade-offs. LAB FREEZER feels green paintish to me, and I don’t think I’ve heard CAREER FAIR nearly as much as “job fair.” I also didn’t know BETA EMISSION, so I needed all the crossings to make sense of that one.

But it all works well enough, and it’s an ambitious theme in a cool-looking grid (I thought it was a Día de Los Muertos skull at first).

There’s some lovely long fill to enjoy as well like OCEAN BLUE, ILL AT EASE, KILLER BEE, SPY PLANE (though it dupes SPY FI), “HOLD IT!,”and EDELWEISS. You can’t read that last word without hearing Christopher Plummer’s smooth vocals, can you? (Whoops! Today I Learned: Plummer was overdubbed in The Sound of Music by a professional singer by the name of Bill Lee. But I found a video with Plummer’s actual voice – see below.)

As far as eyebrow-raisers go, MUSTA is weird, even clued colloquially with [“___ been something I said!”], WET RAG is less familiar to me than “wet noodle,” and AN I clued with [“Wheel of Fortune” purchase] is not the crossword norm since indefinite articles aren’t usually used. That would be like using the clue [Donkey] for AN ASS.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Old spelling for a Korean War landing site]. INCHON. The correct spelling being Incheon.
  • 19a. [Chocolate-dipped Pepperidge Farm cookie]. MILANO. Um, no. They simply aren’t dipped. They’re a sandwich-type cookie.
  • 12d. [EMT’s procedure done to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive”]. CPR. Never heard this one. Here’s how “Stayin’ Alive” will make you a lifesaver.

Other than some nits, this is a nice grid with an impressive theme. Four stars.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “To Make a Long Story Short” — Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “To Make a Long Story Shorter,” 6/24/2023

Our themers are edited book titles. Specifically, edited down by one letter:

  • 23a [James A. Michener novel about a chili morsel in a piece of nursery furniture?] CRIB BEAN (“Caribbean”)
  • 30a [Charles Dickens novel about a residence with constant plumbing problems?] LEAK HOUSE. (“Bleak House”)
  • 37a [John Steinbeck novel about furious, slack-jawed gazes?] THE GAPES OF WRATH (“The Grapes of Wrath”)
  • 49a [Carol Shields novel about a person who celebrates a birthday in early April by getting high?] THE STONED ARIES (“The Stone Diaries”)
  • 68a [Donna Tartt novel about a short putt?] THE GOLF INCH (“The Goldfinch”)
  • 83a [Chinua Achebe novel about how slim Oreo cookies just can’t stay intact?] THINS FALL APART. (“Things Fall Apart”)
  • 100a [Celeste Ng novel about the absence of male deer in people’s lives?] OUR MISSING HARTS. (“Our Missing Hearts”)
  • 109a [Blake Crouch novel about the stuff that makes up Noah’s ship?] ARK MATTER. (“Dark Matter”)

Simple theme done well, IMO. And in classic Evan form, there’s another layer:

119a [Shortened, and what the letters removed from eight novels in this puzzle spell out] ABRIDGED, nicely tying in with the title “To Make a Long Story Shorter.”


  • 36a [Like a grounded Jet, say?] SACKED. This took me a minute to get the sense of “grounded” – the idea is of the New York Jets’ quarterback being brought to the ground when sacked.
  • 81a [MSNBC host Jen] PSAKI. A bit of naivete on my end, to be surprised that the former White House Press Secretary wouldn’t have a tv role now.
  • 112a [Air out?] BREEZE. Nice little trap to get solvers to drop in “breathe” here
  • 121a [NASA astronaut Jessica] MEIR. Here’s a different cluing angle I like for MEIR
  • 6d [Drag queen ___ Vox] ADA. I’m unfamiliar with drag culture, but I recognize Vox, who was runner up in Queen of the Universe, a singing competition for drag artists, after making the top ten of American Idol’s sixteenth season.
  • 16d [“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” author Murakami] HARUKI. A bit tougher to remove a letter for a fun title of this one.
  • 35d [Pitcher Saberhagen] BRET. Saberhagen’s a name I haven’t seen in a bit. He hasn’t played in the Majors in 20+ years, but here he is.
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45 Responses to Sunday, June 25, 2023

  1. Jose Madre says:

    NYT: 72A was clued like a themer and my path to solving led me first to the closing NG. From there I was convinced it would be a themer and took forever to convince myself otherwise. Doh!

    • Eric H says:

      I got the NG at the end of 72A and confidently entered the I. I should’ve realized from it’s placement in the grid that it wasn’t a theme answer.

      But the clue for it is great. It wasn’t until about five minutes after I finished the puzzle that I realized how SIREN SONG fit.

  2. Ethan says:

    NYT: Impressive word count but man alive, some of this fill is a stretch. (Looking at you, 56D.)

    • Eric H says:

      I didn’t care for FBI SPY, either. I got the first three letters and struggled to imagine what the rest of it was. When I think of a SPY, I think of the CIA, not the FBI. (But I know they have infiltrated all sorts of groups over the years, so I guess you could call that spying.)

      Overall, though, there were a lot of fun clues.

      • Asinwell says:

        Couldn’t agree more. Kind of a sophomoric clue. Strained answers. Felt he isn’t quite ready for prime time.

  3. Eric H says:

    NYT: Except for Monday or Tuesday puzzles, 1A is rarely a gimme. I got SPEEDO quickly because we’re staying in a motel, within earshot of the indoor pool. (I’m not sure there is anyone out there swimming in a SPEEDO; all I can hear are the pre-adolescent girls who were in the pool when we got back here.)

    I saw the trick early on with IN OUTING. Then I had some short gimmes like LEAN and MARA, and I was hopeful for a very quick solving experience.

    Instead, I got stuck with several answers in the middle of the grid, especially LAB ANIMAL, SCREEN GRAB, and the partial-sounding OF A LIFETIME. (As an adjectival phrase, it sounds odd without a noun to be modified — experience, thrill, ride — take your pick.)

    In the end, I was surprised to see that I finished about three minutes faster than my Sunday average.

    I’m But what a fun ride it was! “Stop hiding behind?” and “Famous drawing of a ship” both deserve to be in the Clue Hall of Fame. “Pet name” had me stumped for a while, which is ironic considering that SWEETIE is my husband’s preferred term of endearment for me.

    I think I have seen clues along the lines of “Repeated small role for Paul Rudd” before, but I still needed a few crosses to get ANTMAN.

    The theme was one that didn’t wow me. None of the theme answers were truly amusing, but neither were there any real clunkers. All in all, a highly entertaining puzzle that felt more challenging than it really was.

  4. Ethan Friedman says:

    The dupe of LAB ANIMAL and ANATOMY LAB really bothered me.

    And what is SANDGLASS for old timer? I assume it’s another word for hourglass but never heard of it

    • Alex says:

      Same, can’t say I’ve ever heard of SANDGLASS before. Much of the clueing and fill in this one were way too idiosyncratic for me.

    • Eric H says:

      I didn’t even notice that duplication. But NYT puzzles break that “rule” so often that I rarely notice when they do.

      • Ethan Friedman says:

        I feel like there’s a difference between a helping word like TO IN OF and an integral part of the answer.

    • Jeff says:

      All of this, exactly.

    • Martin says:

      It’s not that the rule is broken, but that the NYT uses a different rule. Will Shortz’s rule is no duplications where solving one entry (or reading one clue) is likely to spoil the solve for a second entry because of a replicated word. Of course, this rule’s application can be subjective as well, but it does bring focus to the nature of dupes. We would all agree that the appearance of THE as an entry should not proscribe its use in all clues. Will codifies this in his dupe-lenient approach.

      Strictly speaking, an hourglass measures one hour. It is a type of sand-glass. An egg timer that measures three minutes is another sand-glass but is not an hourglass.

  5. JohnH says:

    The print magazine’s bio note quotes the constructor as saying that many of his friends do NYT puzzles regularly and most find his too hard. Think of it as Shortz’s giving fair warning.

    I too sure found it hard (and also never got MING ERA / EROTICA right). I admired the theme for taking time to come together. After all, you need some crossings before you can see a pattern. And I admired how indirect most clues are, offering a challenge and opportunities for ingenuity.

    But then it fell so short. No wonder the ratings here are nothing short of a disaster. Some entries are obscure, but at least as many just don’t sound right to my ear (like sure, SANDGLASS, OF A LIFETIME, FBI SPY), and so many of these indirect clues just don’t connect to the answer for me. (For that matter, to return to the theme, Slinkys aren’t all falling.) So disappointing. Alas, Sunday puzzles continue to be so consistently far from weekday quality.

    • I know you often comment about the ratings as though they’re useful information about a puzzle, but trust me on this: They aren’t.

      • JohnH says:

        On the contrary, I often find the discussion here dominated by cheerleaders, while the comments more accurately reflect my experience. When it doesn’t, that can indicate something about the puzzle, too, and its demands.

      • RSP64 says:

        I think the ratings are very insightful. It shows how much, on average, people enjoyed the solving experience.

        • The only thing the ratings show is how a handful of anonymous users can trash a puzzle without having to say anything specific or constructive on what they didn’t like about it. There’s no set criteria for what a 1- through 5-star rating means, and the ratings don’t tell you why anyone rated the way they did. Maybe they thought the clues were harder than they expected, or they encountered some proper noun or pop culture they didn’t know, or they rated entirely on a theme without even considering the rest of the grid, or they’re not a fan of Sundays or Mondays or whatever day, or maybe they just woke up and had a terrible cup of coffee and felt like being nasty to the person who worked hard and wrote a crossword for them.

          Even if you think the star ratings provide useful data, there’s a much bigger negative that outweighs it. Plenty of people here have admitted they use the star ratings to determine which puzzles they solve. So if some anonymous cranks drop 1-star ratings on a puzzle and drive down its average, they’re helping to convince people who treat the ratings seriously and might otherwise enjoy that puzzle not to even try it. That’s a real shame — people should just solve the puzzle and form their own opinions about it instead of letting an algorithm make that call for them, but the star ratings system encourages the latter.

          As long as the ratings are going to stick around, the best thing to do is just ignore them. They’re not a useful metric for evaluating a puzzle’s quality. They should never be used to determine which puzzle you solve, nor should anyone ever use them to personally denigrate another constructor’s work or their abilities either.

          • Eric H says:

            I’ve commented that I would like to be able to use the ratings to help me choose which puzzles to solve when I feel like doing more than my regular ones.

            But you’ve almost convinced me to ignore them.

          • R says:

            I generally agree, though I feel like the commenters often trash puzzles with little to nothing constructive to say about them. I’d say at least 60% of comments here can be boiled down to “The puzzle was good, but [2-3 questionable entries] completely ruined it for me.” as though it’s possible to run a daily (or weekly or monthly) puzzle that has no entries that could ever bother anyone.

            • Philippe says:

              On Sunday, if you have to choose only one, pick Evan’s. Consistently great if not more, elegantly clued and rather accessible – even for a non-native. Never disappointed, often awed

          • Seattle DB says:

            I only rate puzzles that I think either were very good or very poor. And it should be noted that the constructor supplies the fill, and the editor(s) supply the cluing. So every puzzle is almost a joint effort. But ultimately, the chief editor is responsible for the puzzles they print.

  6. Matt L says:

    Did not enjoy solving the NYT puzzle one bit. It wasn’t so much the theme (which was old and tired) but the combination of the cluing and fill.

    IMHO, you can have bad fill but make for up in cluing. Or you can have devious cluing but the fill makes up for it as you go “Aha!”. This had bad fill with devious cluing which really is not a joy to solve.


    This was not a fun puzzle and felt it was more of a “show off” puzzle than anything else.

  7. respectyourelders says:

    Ditto on all the comments above. I liked the theme but the center of the puzzle was tough for me. The “?” clue and -NG ending for SIRENSONG really threw me (though it’s very clever!) as well as the LAB dupe. That glaring LAB dupe was a bit shocking, wasn’t it?

  8. PJ says:

    NYT and others – I’d prefer constructors avoid southern, rural, or Appalachian dialect clues. To me, anyway, they rarely hit and often seem unflattering. RIGHT SMART apparently peeked in popularity around 1870 and how – de – do around 1900. And I think it’s a lot more common as HOWDY – DO.

    • JohnH says:

      Yes, I tried to preserve HOWDYDO an awfully long time before giving in to what I could see coming. And yes, too, the dupe LAB is awful. Come to think of it, that quote in the bio note I mentioned comes off as a matter of pride that could excuse anything. Sometimes solvers might be on to something, and their experience if taken seriously could lead to better fill and better clues.

    • Tyra D says:

      Kind of a gross take? Maybe open your mind a bit, people and cultures are different.

    • Shanda says:

      I’m from Mississippi. Doesn’t bother me at all.

  9. MattF says:

    NYT got me at the very end… HOTPACKS rather than, e.g., HOTROCKS. So, there was a lot wrong in the small area nearby. But creative, I guess.

  10. Christopher Smith says:

    Sometimes the NYT is like a 70’s prog rock band, with low word counts instead of 20-minute songs, and the audience’s indifference just serving as proof of our unworthiness.

  11. GlennG says:

    LAT: Kind of smooth solve, but low rating as the constructor/editor muffed the theme rather badly if it’s what I think it is. If I’m not mistaken 22A was intended to be anagrammed ARIZONA in the circles but we have ZONRAIN (N instead of A) instead.

    • GlennG says:

      Shifting the circles left one square will solve it, though. So I’m guessing like I do with writing sometimes, they just get too crossed up to see what’s going on?

      • norah says:

        Hi Glenn, thanks for solving. Yeah, this is an error, unfortunately. I’ve contacted the editor to see if we can get it updated.

  12. Jess R says:

    Hi, Norah! Thanks for the kind write-up. Yes, midwestern vibes were what I was going for!

  13. Bill Harris says:

    Rating of 1.7 is about the lowest in history. Deservedly so. After reading the write-up you would never know.

    The theme was often silly or inaccurate. Remember how the Slinky selling point was climbing stairs (not FALLING)!

    Fill had too many DEANA’S, LEONA’S and THALIA’s for my taste.

    I gave it a 1.5 for effort

    • Jeff says:

      Er, the Slinky commercial lyrics talk about it going “down” stairs, not up. I don’t see how a Slinky could go up a flight of stairs.

    • R says:

      Not only are you categorically wrong about basic Slinky physics, but it’s telling that your other problems are with having women’s names in the grid. A low rating from you should be counted as a high rating for people with decent taste.

  14. Dknnws says:

    LAT: Some fun fill, but having another state name (VIRGINIA) appear unscrambled in a themer was a huge oversight by the editors.

    • Pilgrim says:

      That one bothered me as well. But, all in all, I thought the puzzle was really clever. EXPANSIONTEAM (Minnesota) and TIBETANMONASTERY (Montana) were great finds!

Comments are closed.