Sunday, March 3, 2024

LAT untimed (Gareth)  


NYT 12:54 (Nate) 


USA Today  7:20 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 14:32 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 6:52 (Matthew) 


Hoang-Kim Vu’s New York Times crossword, “Countdown” — Nate’s write-up

I knew we could count on today’s constructor for a great Sunday puzzle!

03.03.2024 New York Times Crossword

03.03.2024 New York Times Crossword

– 1A: (TEN)T DRESS [Loose-fitting garment]
– 24A: ALUM(NI NE)WSLETTER [It might help you keep up with old classmates]
– 30A: FR(EIGHT) TRAIN [Carrier of goods by rail]
– 47A: PRES(S EVEN)T [Stop on a publicity tour]
– 61A: (SIX)TUS [Chosen name of five popes]
– 71A: TAKE (FIVE) [Break for a bit]
– 80A: PETIT (FOUR)S [French desserts whose name translates as “small ovens”]
– 108A: EAR(TH REE)NTRY [Concern at the end of a space journey]
– 115A: DON'(T WO)RK TOO HARD [“Take it easy once in a while!”]
– 118A: CORLE(ONE)S [Sonny and Fredo, for two]

What a remarkable, theme-dense offering! Each of the ten(!) theme entries has a hidden number which goes down before the rest of the across theme entry continues. My favorites were the themers where the number came at an unexpected moment, like in ALUM(NI NE)WSLETTER and DON'(T WO)RK TOO HARD. (SIX)TUS, on the other hand, felt a bit tougher than the average themer, and TAKE (FIVE) and PETIT (FOUR)S felt they might not have been as exciting as they could have been, perhaps because of the sheer volume of theme entries that had to fit into this puzzle symmetrically!

In such a theme-dense puzzle, you’d expect the fill to suffer, but not so at the hands of our talented constructor. The only place where I got stuck and had to run the alphabet was at the REP / EPS crossing at the bottom – two abbreviated entries crossing each other, each with its own cutesy, indirect clue was a recipe for ??? for me. Even still, I was able to plunk in that last letter and sail in under my average solve time, so no complaints here.

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


Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Form Letters” — Matt’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Form Letters,” 3/3/2024

A meta prompt accompanies today’s puzzle: The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is a phrase that parents often say to young children. Ten themers are marked with asterisks:

  • 23a [*Plan B song whose title translates to a phrase meaning “Don’t tell anybody about this”] ES UN SECRETO
  • 25a [*Wisconsin city where the indie band Bon Iver formed] EAU CLAIRE
  • 43a [*”Wanna go?”] YOU INTERESTED
  • 46a [*R&B group with the 1990 hit “Hold On”] EN VOGUE
  • 68a [*She played Mary Taylor in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”] DEE WALLACE
  • 73a [*Procedure performed by an ophthalmologist] EYE SURGERY
  • 98a [*When a round begins] TEE TIME
  • 100a [*”Yeah, sure buddy, God forbid that!”] OH THE HUMANITY
  • 122a [*Star pitcher for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters before joining Major League Baseball in 2012] YU DARVISH
  • 124a [*Device that separates Earl Grey leaves from the brewed liquid, say] TEE STRAINER

The meta is relatively gentle – I recognized somewhere around EAU CLAIRE and YOU INTERESTED that the first word of each theme entry was a homophone for a(n English) letter. In order, those letters spell SOUND IT OUT, something indeed that parents often say to young children, and a nod to the mechanism itself, in which we have to “sound out” the entries in order to extract the meta. Of course, we are also following the title’s instruction to “form letters” in the sounding out. A fun little set of mechanism, title, and meta answer.

My initial feeling is that there was plenty of fodder for Evan to work with in this theme, but the need to put particular letters in order while making a grid work is I bet a sneaky constraint. For my money (the puzzle is free), the grid and fill itself is minimally affected by the theme. I also quite like that the themers are arranged in pairs occupying entire rows rather than staggered.


  • 30a [2008 martial arts film based on the life of Bruce Lee’s master] IP MAN. This name vaguely rang a bell for me, but I should do some research. The 2008 film was in fact the first of a five-movie franchise based on IP MAN’s life.
  • 41a [Computer built at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering] ENIAC. At the University of Pennsylvania, if you were wondering like I was.
  • 80a [Oil supply?] PAINT. As in an oil painting.
  • 83a [Father of the cartoonist Jeff Keane] BIL. Jeff, the inspiration for The Family Circus‘ Jeffy, took the reins of the strip from his father in 2011.
  • 100a [*”Yeah, sure buddy, God forbid that!”] OH THE HUMANITY. With a sarcastic tone, not a Hindenberg-watcher-y (or WKRP in Cincinnati) tone.
  • 127a [“Xena: Warrior Princess” actress O’Connor] RENEE. Reneé Rapp has been getting a bunch of crossword love lately. I for one am not sad to be reminded of Xena: Warrior Princess.
  • 56d [Org. publishing the Map of Radon Zones] EPA. I did not know about this map, which will be a nice rabbithole for later.
  • 75d [Comedic Heidi who plays the teen film critic Bailey Gismert] GARDNER and 126a [Sketch show for Heidi 75 Down] SNL. Highlighting this less for the entries as the structure of the crossreference, with “Heidi” appearing in both clues. It’s not bad, just a little novel to me.


Howard Neuthaler’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Witty Remarks”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases whose second words can also be synonyms for “remark.” The entries are reinterpreted more literally though, as if they were descriptions of the remarks in the clues.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Witty Remarks” · Howard Neuthaler · 3.3.24

  • 23a. [*”I see”?] VISION STATEMENT. Good start.
  • 36a. [*”Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all”?] FISHING LINE. As in, fishing for a compliment. This is my favorite of the lot.
  • 47a. [*”Fair is fair”?] JUST SAYING.
  • 62a. [*”Chew on this”?] BITING COMMENT.
  • 81a. [*”Don’t have a cow”?] STOCK QUOTE. I like that the clue is an actual Bart Simpson quote.
  • 87a. [*”You’re under arrest”?] CATCH PHRASE.
  • 108a. [*”Oh, it’s nothing”?] BLANK EXPRESSION.

Fun theme. Especially since it reminded me of this puzzle (by yours truly) from four years ago. I found it interesting that despite having a few similarities, all the phrases we used were different. (In an earlier iteration of my puzzle I also had CATCH PHRASE, but it led to the saying “Think fast!”)

My solve was quite smooth until I reached that SE corner. I couldn’t see the ending of BLANK EXPRESSION, didn’t know LIPPI or POSSE CUT, and opaque cluing on RUSES, NOTICE, and OUTIE meant I had few crosses to work with. Eventually the theme answer gave way and I was able to dig myself out, but not after three minutes spent in that corner alone.

Plenty of lively fill to enjoy, such as: “OH, PUH-LEASE!,” KER-PLUNK, EATS DIRT, PINE-SOL, MAN-BUNS, GRADUATE, Newton’s FIRST LAW, BIG SCREENS, PROM DATE, PLUS-ONES, HEYDAY, and “I S’POSE SO.” Honorable mention to KLUDGE which I use occasionally to talk about dodgy fill in a puzzle (not so much today, though).

I know YEETS and UPVOTE from spending time on Reddit, but I had trouble with other entries like SPANG [Directly, in slang], ADP [Payroll giant (Abbr.)], and proper names DINA Merrill, Georges PEREC, and the aforementioned Fra Filippo LIPPI.

Clues of note:

  • 116a. [“Prolly”]. “I S’POSE SO.” Simple but spot on clue which help me fill in the answer right away.
  • 51d. [Diminutive Spanish suffix]. CITO. I would’ve thought ITO (as in “perrito,” i.e. “little dog”) was sufficient as a suffix. But certain words take CITO depending on their final letter (e.g. “callecito” means “little street”).  I know CITO as an acronym from geocaching where it means Cache In, Trash Out. Certain geocaching events are marked CITO events where geocache searchers also pick up trash along the way.

Good puzzle. 3.75 stars.

Rachel Fabi’s USA Today crossword, “First Class” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme Answer: Each theme answer begins with a D&D class.

Theme Answer

Rachel Fabi’s USA Today crossword, “First Class” solution for 3/3/2024

  • 20a [Becky Chambers’ solarpunk book series] MONK AND ROBOT
  • 28a [“Top Gun” Planes] FIGHTER JETS
  • 44a [School associated with Simon’s Rock] BARD COLLEGE
  • 52a [Free-floating interstellar objects] ROGUE PLANET

It took me a second to parse out what the title was referring to, especially since I was thinking about “class” in terms of school. However, BARD, MONK, and even ROGUE feel very distinctive, and that’s when I remembered that Dungeons & Dragons have classes of roles. That said, I didn’t really use the theme to plunk in the themers. FIGHTER JETS was easy since Top Gun is my favourite movie. The others came together more slowly, but the crosses really helped, especially with MONK AND ROBOTO. I’m excited to look into the book series.

Other fave fill included STANCES, END DATE, HUMOR and HIPPO. There were a few more difficult angles that I think slowed my solve time. For example, I had to come back to 27d [It’s for the birds] AVIARY. However, I really enjoyed this puzzle.

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Sunday, March 3, 2024

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: Impressive construction indeed. I typically don’t read the Sunday puzzle title, but by the second or third number going down, I knew what was going on and filled in the rest of the “-“ clues.

    Maybe it’s just that I don’t like answers that appear to be nonsense (1A TTDRESS, 30A FRETRAIN). In any case, I didn’t particularly enjoy solving this.

    The SALLIE MAE clue is a little flash of wit, but most of the clueing is very straightforward.

    • huda says:

      I agree that this was very impressive construction. The way Nat highlighted the theme visually is very pretty.
      I also like that all the theme answers (except SIXTUS) are real phrases, and I usually prefer that over the Sunday style puns.
      Yet the solving process felt like work. Maybe it’s the theme density? You bump into uncertainty very frequently?
      Or maybe I’m just recovering from Covid and my brain is not firing on all circuits.

    • Gary R says:

      I was pretty sure I knew what was going on with the theme after I got the first two. I would have been wise to scan the down clues at that point and fill in the rest of the countdown. As it was, I solved my usual way – try four or five rows of across clues to see what I can get, then go back and look at crosses. So, for the themers, I couldn’t make sense of them until I went back for my pass through the down clues. Live and learn!

  2. Makfan says:

    It wasn’t until I read this that I realized the numbers were in a countdown sequence. Managing to fit them in order makes it even more impressive. Some weird fill, but I didn’t even have to hunt the usual typos at the end.

  3. JohnH says:

    Impressive to get a whole countdown. We’d seen our share of downward detours clued by hyphens (yawn), but this stands out, with all ten themers, not to mention in order.

    But we do pay a price for that, maybe several prices. We get nonsense entries rather than new words. We get a few lousy spots. TENT DRESS was new to me and nice to learn, but I wish it then hadn’t crossed TRU TV. DON’T WORK TOO HARD and STOLEN ART are certainly English, but not exactly idioms. (ENTHUSE is one of my least favorite words.) And so many 3-letter entries! So on balance huge pleasure in watching or hunting for the next number would fall, but too many qualms.

    • Eric H says:

      34 three-letter entries, 29 four-letter entries. That does seem like a lot, even for a 21X21 grid.

      Maybe that’s the source of my dissatisfaction with this one.

      I have nothing against ENTHUSE, but for some reason, I have always had trouble saying “enthusiasm” without garbling it.

      • JohnH says:

        Interesting, thanks. “Enthuse” is actually a back-formation from “enthusiasm,” and at this point I hesitate to speculate how accepted it’s become.

        Some battles a nitpicker, me included, does have to give up. I still refuse to say “comprised of” as opposed to “comprising” or “composed of” (“indefensible” per Fowlers 2/e) and I’d edit it out in others. But seeing it in print at this point I just roll with it rather than waste breath about declining standards.

        • Eric H says:

          The one that gets me is when “alibi” is used to mean “excuse.” “Alibi” in Latin means “elsewhere” and that’s what its original legal meaning was. Completely different conceptually from an excuse.

          But you’re right; at some point, you just have to ignore those kinds of things (or limit yourself to a good eye roll).

  4. K Santamore says:

    I am completing puzzle on line. Where is title?

    • Eric H says:

      There’s a circled “i” in the upper right corner. Click on that and you should see the title.

  5. David L says:

    NYT: Pretty clever construction but not that exciting to solve, once you’ve grasped the idea. EARTHREENTRY doesn’t seem like a real phrase to me — REENTRY alone is what it’s generally called, or you could talk about reentry into the atmosphere. But you don’t really want to reenter the earth…

    WaPo: A meta that even I could figure out. The only problem I had was with the first letter. Not knowing Spanish, I thought ESUNSECRETO was meant to provide an A or an E, depending on pronunciation. But the rest of the letters were obvious and I realized it had to be an S.

    • Eric H says:

      WaPo: I too read the ES as an A. I also missed the asterisks at first and was short a few letters, which gave me AUDIO OUT for the meta answer. When Googling that didn’t reveal it to be a new phrase that parents use (I was thinking along the lines of “Use your indoor voice”), I looked harder at the grid and found the other letters.

      Pretty simple if you’re paying attention.

  6. PJ says:

    NYT – FIVE stuck out to me. It was the only number that retained its meaning in the complete theme answer.

    • Cory says:

      In addition (and ironically) the word “five” appears in the clue for “SIXTUS”–so not only is “FIVE” a dupe, but the puzzle weirdly makes it easier to notice, since the dupe is in a clue for one of the themers.

    • Dan says:


  7. Alan D. says:

    Wishing Will Shortz a speedy recovery from the stroke he suffered on February 4. Be well!

  8. Art Shapiro says:

    LA reviewer’s timing has been up for several hours but there’s no write up. Glitch?

  9. Dan says:

    NYT: This is a very fine puzzle.

    But as for “entries that had to fit into this puzzle symmetrically”, I must be missing the symmetry. (But symmetry of theme entries doesn’t matter to me at all.)

    • Nate says:

      Sorry – I meant that the theme entries (of different lengths) had to fit into the otherwise symmetrical black square grid pattern. That’s tough!

  10. Seattle DB says:

    USAT: I’m shocked that this puzzle was selected by the editors to make an appearance. It might appeal to maybe 5% of the overall solvers, if that. (I gave it a “1”.)

  11. Seattle DB says:

    Universal: Constructor Rafael Musa made an ego-puzzle where the first two across answers are his name. (I’m giving it a 4 just to flatter him.)

  12. Daryl says:

    Truly did not like this puzzle. Tedious and boring. Not at all satisfying or fun.

Comments are closed.