Worldly Wisdom

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Size:  16×15

Words:  79

Average length:  5.01

Difficulty:  3 out of 5

I’m not generally a fan of quote puzzles, but when I read the passage that forms the theme of this puzzle, I thought it deserved to be enshrined in a crossword – surely the highest and most enduring memorialization possible!   It pithily reflects, in an exasperated way, a fundamental facet of human nature.  The quote comes from the last essay in Seeing Further:  The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society, edited by the incomparable Bill Bryson.  The essay’s author, Martin Rees FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society), is an august cosmologist and past-President of the Society.

La Jolla 29 Down

18A: To quote Anna Russell, “I’m not making this up, you know”:  the answer is a real thing and, in fact, is studied in academia (not a particularly exclusive distinction) and used in art installations.  (If you’re into classical music and comedy, check out Anna Russell’s very funny analysis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.)

27A:  Shout out to ZZ Top.  Fun fact:  ZZ Top’s drummer, Frank Beard, for many years was the only member of the band without cascading facial hair.

47A:  I love this factoid; it sounds like a 3-year old came up with the name.

64A:  My favorite clue in the puzzle.  For those who are unfamiliar with this meaning of the final word in the answer, it refers to the mold on which a shoe is constructed.

70A:  Apparently, Kanter is about to become an American citizen following his years-long battle with Turkey’s leader (Erdogan).

4D:  Yes, yet another Harry Potter reference.  Sorry, but I love these books and will cite them where possible.  Deal with it.

31D:  This usually isn’t ideal fill, but I figured it was ok here because this puzzle is a pangram (my first).


May 23 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  64

Average Length:  5.72

Difficulty:  4

Mountain lake, Qaqortoq, Greenland (see 26 Down)

I started this grid with the triple stack of 11s in the middle, which uses two entries from my “need to put these in a puzzle” list (28 and 35 Across).  The middle entry in the sandwich came naturally because it’s a frequent and scrumptious presence in our house.  Please enjoy, please share, and please feel free to shoot me an email or submit a comment if you’ve got helpful suggestions/comments.

16A:  The answer is a bit obscure, but I marvel at this passage, where Shakespeare once again cuts to the heart of a human emotion.  Interestingly, the meaning of the answer has changed from its original, time-centered sense to connote a culmination or high point.

25A:  Yuck, I know.  I couldn’t figure out how to redo this section with a less obscure answer; one alternative would have been to change the “T” to a “D” and clue it as a manufacturer of modernistic watches, but that seems just as obscure, and I prefer the existing 26D to the alternative because it conjures up memories of hiking in Greenland (see photo above).

28A:  I first saw this expression in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where someone at the Ministry of Magic says, “we thought it was a [ANSWER] chicken until it started breathing fire.”  Apparently, the expression also is in common use across the pond in the muggle world.



puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  76

Average Length:  4.87

Difficulty:  3/5

Detail inside 38 Across

I constructed a version of this puzzle in 2013, shortly after Pope Francis was elected.  Now that I have this blog, I figured I’d look at some of my earlier efforts – which I circulated only among a dozen family and friends – to see if any were worth revisiting. 

This one is intended as a lighthearted riff on the papacy.  Nothing should give offense, I hope.  Enjoy the solve and, if you do, please share the puzzle.

11D:  This clue is based on a true story:  when my oldest son was in 5th grade, his class wrote and produced an opera.  The preparation included attending a dress rehearsal of an opera (I don’t recall which one) at the Kennedy Center.  For several minutes after being stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise mortally attacked, the soprano sang and sang and sang.  My son says, in a stage whisper, “would you just die already?”.


May 13 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word count:  77

Average length:  5.30

Difficulty:  a soft 5

The seed for this one was 41 Across, which is a fascinating concept and reinforces that we are all one big family (and should act accordingly).  More on that below.  This entry also required a slightly over-sized grid (16×15).  Enjoy, and if you do, please share expansively.

Picture is apropos of nothing in the puzzle but today is a special day (only 2 years til Medicare!). Actually, it kind of relates to 26A.

18A:  my third favorite CSN song after Guinevere and Helplessly Hoping.  I love the propulsive beat and engaging travelogue.

41A:  In the words of Wikipedia, this answer is “the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all living humans. In other words, she is defined as the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman.”  The concept is unrelated to the biblical woman of the same name; there were probably thousands of other women alive at the time that this answer lived (roughly 150,000 years ago), but none of them left descendants whose descendants are living today.  To me, this is an incredibly powerful concept, which underlines that however different we look, feel, or act, and whatever we hold dear, every one of the more than 7 billion humans alive today is a cousin of some degree to every other human.  If that’s not mind-blowing enough, check out Last Universal Common Ancestor.

64A:  These are wonderful books.  The follow-on trilogy, two books in, is just as good so far.  I haven’t seen The Golden Compass, which was based on book 1 of the answer, but I understand it pulls some punches compared to the book.

32D and 60D:  Apologies if these names are unfamiliar to younger solvers (“younger” is an increasingly expansive category, currently encompassing 80% of the U.S. population compared to yours truly), but I think they’re prominent enough to be fair game for a crossword.


Pun Names

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  72

Average Length:  5.19

Difficulty:  4/5

I had a great deal of fun – perhaps too much, you be the judge – cluing this one.  (Favorite non-theme clues:  13A, 41A, 4D (possibly rescuing the crosswordese fill), 22D.)

Gustav Vigeland, creator of fantastical sculptures, along with an avian admirer. See the notes on 32D.

Some notes:

51A:  The Lennon tracks, especially Watching the Wheels, which is one of my favorite songs from an ex-Beatle, but including Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over, are solid.  The others, eh, not so much IMO.

7D: Showing my age here, again.  M*A*S*H was a rare TV show that maintained its quality through all of its seasons and cast changes.

11D:  I wanted to clue this referring to the cracker company – try their Multigrains, which are phenomenal and at least as addictive as Stacy’s chips – but I wasn’t sure if they were just a local mid-Atlantic company.

32D:  It’s a fascinating city.  If you ever have the chance, visit the brilliant Vigeland Sculpture Park.

63D:  Way too obscure, I’m sorry, but as a recovering telecom lawyer, this was somewhere in my useless information database (which is quite large and is elbowing aside the stuff it would be helpful to remember).


May 2 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word count: 68

Average length: 5.65

Difficulty: 4/5 

I hope you enjoy this moderately difficult themeless. Please feel free to share it with fellow crossword lovers. If you have any questions/comments/complaints, you can submit a comment below or shoot me an email at

American Military Cemetery, Normandy (see 26 Down)

1A:  My first exposure to this beverage was a couple of years ago at a farmhouse after biking up a steep hill in the Black Forest.  Delicious!!! 

35A:  Perhaps a bit obscure, but it’s in the lyrics of a very catchy Steely Dan tune (Doctor Wu, on the Katy Lied album) that I’ve been listening to regularly since it came out way back in 1975.  The relevant verse:  You walked in/And my life began again/Just when I’d spent the last /I could borrow ….

26D:  If you have the chance to visit the D-Day beaches, grab it.  I’ve traveled a great deal and have never had such a moving, profound experience.


Going to the Mat

puz | pdf | solution

This one’s a medium-difficulty themed puzzle inspired by my wife, who has become a true and adept devotee of the subject activity (not cow-washing, despite the picture below).

At the cow wash, Alapphuza, Kerala, India

39A:  Check out the band if you’re interested – they play a raucous mix of klezmer, punk, gypsy music, and even salsa, and they sing in English, Russian, and Spanish, often in the same song. 

43A:  Sorry for the obscure fill.  I struggled mightily to complete the mid-South, as you can probably tell; with the exception of 6D, that’s where most of the inferior fill is.  I tried to put IRON-ONS here but just couldn’t make it work.  Neither did IMPUGNS, or INTRONS (only slightly less obscure than what’s there), or ….

35D:  Across the vast majority of (polytheistic) human cultures, there’s a trickster god.  Coyote and Raven fill the role in various Native American cultures.  In the Hebrew Bible, Jacob often acts as the trickster, although he’s not divine and Judaism is monotheistic.


420 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

It’s April 20, but today’s offering has nary a clue related to the day’s festivities.   There are two seed entries (it’s not a sinsemilla!) in this medium-difficulty themeless:  1A, who I think deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, and 59A, which I first tried in a fantastic hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Florence. 

Overachieving lemons near Sorrento:

Other answers/clues of note:

39A.  I didn’t know the derivation of “wonk” until I saw something similar to the clue on a t-shirt at a Nats game, back when regular attendance at a baseball game was a thing for me.

43A.  This was surprisingly difficult to verify.  I have every album released by this group as well as any combination of its members.  Keeping straight which combination (particularly whether “Y” was part of it) first released which of their gazillion hits isn’t always easy.  Here’s an early song by “S” that’s lyrically appropriate for today, in a non-psychoactive sense

13D.  My least favorite answer in the puzzle.  It stands for Short Take-off and Landing.


Country Smiles

puz | pdf | solution

Here’s a pretty easy puzzle that might elicit some serious groans, not from the effort required but from the “quality” of the puns in the theme answers. For an explanation of some of the cluing decisions and a dose of, ahem, bonus content – theme answers and clues that were in earlier versions of the grid but didn’t make the final cut for various reasons – see the write-up below the photo. [To those of you finding this site from Matt’s invaluable Daily Crossword Links, I’m painfully aware this is not a themeless puzzle; I messed up in naming a file and am now bearing the consequences. Mea culpa etc.]

The Stockholm waterfront (see 30 Across)


* * *

15A:     RETRO GAMER.  This is a thing, apparently; in fact, there’s an entire magazine devoted to people who love playing video games from the dim, dark past.

28A:  A NO.  The quote references one of Randy Jackson’s go-to phrases on American Idol.  Even if you’re not an Idol fan (I’m not – The Voice is way better, IMO), I think the phrase has made it into general circulation.

41A:  SWELTER.   I think “shvitz” is a fair clue: it’s entered the English lexicon in the same way as other Yiddish words like schmear and shmuck.

46A:  SUDAN LEVY.  Schitt’s Creek has become a big part of current-day culture, so I hope the clue doesn’t throw too many people off.  (Originally, I wanted this to be Sudan Rather, but I couldn’t make it work satisfactorily.)

63A:  RINO.  An acronym for Republican In Name Only. 

2D:  QATAR RUG.  This one probably shows my age – my test-solver (son Adam), who is roughly half my age, hadn’t heard of “cut a rug” as an idiom meaning “dance”. 

4D:  ASS.  Yes, the quote is accurate; it’s “a,” not “an”.

I had immense fun brainstorming possible theme answers (I’m easily amused).  Here are some that were in earlier versions of the grid but didn’t make the final cut for reasons of space, symmetry, or recalcitrant crossings.  Clues first, answers below:

  • Step sequence in Seoul?
  • Revolving fad in Apia?
  • Highlight of Showboat in Muscat?
  • Complaint at a Cairo bazaar?
  • How do you see the tallest buildings in Kiev?
  • I found a cool fossil buried near Nairobi – what should I do?

Bonus answers:


Fiji Spinner

Oman River

Egypt Me

Ghana Way

Ukraine Your Neck

Kenya Dig It


On the Road Again

puz | pdf | solution

Here’s a themed puzzle from mid-2020. If you know classic rock reasonably well, it’s not too hard. If not, this one might be just a tad challenging.