puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  76

Average Length:  4.97

Difficulty:  2.5 out of 5

I’ve got a different kind of themed puzzle for you this week.  No tortured puns and no classic rock references – the worldwide relief is palpable – just a straightforward trivia quiz about US Presidents.  For background, read the spoiler-free discussion below the photo.  If you enjoy the puzzle, please share it far and wide.  Finally, thanks to my brother Eric for helping me out of a bit of a mess in the middle of a grid.

Presidential bio collection

Over the last several years, I’ve read biographies of every US President.  One thing I learned:  our country has been blessed with a few superstar leaders (Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Truman), cursed with a handful of awful leaders (Buchanan, Pierce, A. Johnson, Trump), and otherwise mostly muddled along with Presidents ranging from pretty bad to good-but-not-great. 

We’ve had some fascinating mixed bags:  LBJ was one of our greatest Presidents in terms of domestic policy but embroiled us in Vietnam; Teddy Roosevelt was a Progressive firebrand but an unreconstructed imperialist.  We’ve had at least two Presidents whose place near the top of most rankings is difficult to square with their actual achievements, JFK and Thomas Jefferson.  And on the other side, there are at least a couple – Truman and Carter – who I think are underappreciated.

Which brings us to this puzzle. None of the names above is a theme answer.  Of the ten Presidents included in the grid, some were very good, some were mixed bags, and some were forgettable.  All, however, fit symmetrically, which is an admirable attribute.

Specific comments:

1A:  This President was instrumental in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase while serving as Ambassador to France, entered several treaties with Great Britain following the War of 1812 that benefited both nations economically, resolved boundary disputes with Great Britain, obtained Florida from Spain, issued a Doctrine warning European nations about interfering in the Americas, and promoted infrastructure improvements.  Of course, like every US President before 1850 except the two Adamses, he was a slaveholder, and he only reluctantly signed the Missouri Compromise because he didn’t believe slavery should be restricted anywhere.

63A:  This President was a talented and internationally respected mining engineer, and during and after World War I he ran food relief efforts both domestically and in Europe that saved millions of lives.  Later, as a dynamic Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge, he sought to improve virtually every sector of the economy and was instrumental in promoting the development and regulation of radio.  Alas, upon becoming President he inherited an unsustainable economy from Coolidge and seemingly did everything in his power to make things worse, resulting in the Great Depression.

37D:  This President served as governor of the Philippines under McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt and strove to secure land for Filipino farmers, treat Filipinos equally with Americans, and give Filipinos a role in governing their own country with an eye to eliminating the perceived need for American presence.  Following his largely unremarkable Presidency, he served as a well-regarded Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he markedly improved administration of the federal courts.

Themed Uncategorized

American Songbook

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  69 (14×15 grid)

Average Length:  5.04

Difficulty:  2 out of 5

38A, flowing under the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence

Here’s an easy holiday puzzle for y’all. To mark the 4th, I thought I’d focus on “American” music (gee, that’s a surprise, says anyone who’s solved one of my puzzles).  I put “American” in quotes because the music we play, listen to, and create is a hodgepodge, an olio if you will (yes, you can use the word outside of crosswords) of indigenous, European, African, Latin American, and Asian influences.  We harmonize our disparate heritages in our music. 

In brainstorming – never ideating, which is a horrible word and should be banned from crosswords despite its friendly orthography – possible theme answers, I found the three here. Not only are they symmetrical; they illustrate my “olio point” in an appropriately tinted manner. 

Finally, one specific comment on the puzzle:  Given the theme, I had to give a shout out to Ms. Russell in 50D, as the co-star (with husband Matthew Rhys) of one of the greatest shows in television history.


What Did Edvard Munch?

(Not Ice Scream)

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  74

Average Length:  4.95

Difficulty: 3/5

Palette or palate, what’s the diff?  Artists have painted still life arrangement for centuries.  You might ask, though, what happens when artists become one with their food?  Solve and see!  And please, share bountifully.

34 Down: My Selmer Mark VI

The seed for this puzzle was an earlier incarnation of 23A:  my wife, who is a punster extraordinaire, came to me last week and suggested using “bialy” as the second word, which I like because it is inherently funnier than the actual second word in the answer.  Alas, the exigencies of symmetry stamped their feet after I came up with the other two theme answers and bialy was toast, so to speak. 

Special thanks to my test-solver (son Adam) on this one – he always has good input, and here he suggested some edits that I think greatly improved the final product.


Worldly Wisdom

puz | pdf | solution

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).



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?”.


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.


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.