Themeless 16

The Gateway to India Arch (see 18 Down)

puz | pdf | solution

Words:  72

Average Length:  5.25

Difficulty:  4 out of 5

The main seed for this puzzle was 58A, which occurred to me while I was out for a stifling morning walk.  I think there were several subconscious seeds as well:  I’ve been daydreaming about once again traveling – we just had to cancel a trip to Portugal in October – and it turns out a handful of entries are places I’ve been and loved.  Not surprisingly, the solving notes below (with bonus photos) are something of a travelogue.   I hope you enjoy the puzzle.  Please share it if you do.

The Little Cathedral, Glendalough, Ireland

21A:  Here’s another hint – the Book of Kells is in Dublin.  As far as I know I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but I’ve never felt so at home while away from home.  What a wonderful island, and what wonderful people!

18D:  As Nigel Tufnel might have said about the sights and sounds of this city, “they go to 11.”  (This Is Spinal Tap).   It’s as vibrant and fascinating a place as I’ve ever been.

The Cliffs of Moher, which should look familiar to Harry Potter fans

25D:  The Cliffs of Moher were the exterior for the cave scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Themeless 15

puz | pdf | solution

How about a juicy, not too difficult themeless with references to con artists, schismatics, the best music documentary I’ve ever seen, and a classic novel of anti-colonialism?  You won’t find that just anywhere, you know.  Enjoy and share!

View from the back of the Summer Palace (St. Petersburg) (see 16 and 19 Across)

Two bits of housekeeping before my usual rambling notes:

First, a big thank you to my son Adam and to Josh Audibert for helping me through an annoying technical issue.  Plug time:  Adam’s iPhone and iPad app Albums – album focused player is a powerful, flexible, and engaging music player, available on the App Store at  Josh publishes fun, creative daily minis on his Odd Bear Puzzles site,  Solve them if you’re not already doing so!

Second, in an effort (vain in one sense but hopefully not in another) to drive more traffic to this site, I’ve ordered hats with my site’s logo on it (picture below).  If you’d like one —ABSOLUTELY FREE — before they hit the runway in Paris, email me at with your address.

25A:  I hope the 33/45 reference isn’t lost on too many solvers.  In a world where CDs are as outdated as calculators, the vinyls of my youth (almost all of which I still have, thank you very much, as well as a turntable to play them on) are just so many abaci.

27A:  This song charted well in the UK but got little air play in the US, apparently because it references cross-dressing.

38A:  The major monotheistic religions mostly share the same admirable ethical precepts.  But historically, and still today, many adherents of these religions have ignored their faith’s teachings and clashed violently over what, to the outside observer (e.g., anyone practicing a different religion) is doctrinal hair-splitting with little ethical import.  This answer is but one example.  Pedantic lecture over (until the next one).


August 1 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  70

Average Length:  5.57

Difficulty:  5 out of 5

Here’s a challenging themeless built around three grid-spanners:  a terrific book from the great Haruki Murakami, a classic line from a very funny baseball movie, and a fervent wish about our nation’s capital. Enjoy and share!

Cologne (Koln) Cathedral at dusk (see 56 Across)

10A:  Walter is one of my favorite authors.  His characters – labor organizers, reformed criminals, active criminals, movie stars, poets – come alive, and he writes with deep feeling and sharp wit.

45A:  I’m not sure how many people remember him – he’s still alive and kicking at 94 – but Sahl is credited as the first modern stand-up comic, and his political satire inspired Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and many others.

60A:  I refuse to clue this by reference to my local baseball team so soon after they traded so many stars (especially to the Dodgers!).

4D:  Another favorite author of mine, Murakami’s novels brim over with music, magic, and close attention to his characters’ internal lives.

10D:  Here’s a link to the clip, which follows the memorable line “He’s a juvenile delinquent in the off-season, in his Major League debut.”  The quote is around the 54 second mark.


July 21 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  72

Average Length:  5.36

Difficulty:  4 out of 5

Our new mat!

As the mat says, Welcome!  This one’s a moderately challenging themeless, so put your thinking caps on and remember, it’s nice to share …

34A:  I apologize for failing to find a less gloomy quote for this answer.

3D:  This is the heart of Miami’s Cuban community

9D: The furor triggered by the Encyclopedie, which was the first largely secular encyclopedia, makes for an entertaining story.  An Enlightenment tour-de-force, the Encyclopedie was banned by the Catholic Church and blamed/credited for the French Revolution.


July 8 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

The highest-ranking angel, our dog Mia (see the clue for 1 Across)

Word Count:  70

Average Length:  5.40

Difficulty:  5 out of 5

The seed for this one, not surprisingly, was 5D, which I first thought of when constructing my two Set List puzzles a month or so ago.   Joni Mitchell has remained one of my all-time favorites since the early 70s, and her fourth album is phenomenal, justifiably considered #3 on Rolling Stone’s most recent list of the 500 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time.  My views on Taylor Swift have pulled a “uey,” to use some bad crossword fill.  I used to dismiss her as just another bland pop star, but now that I’ve given her a chance, I think she’s an exceptionally talented songwriter and performer.  Her first acoustic album from 2020, “folklore,” is really nice.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the puzzle.  Please share generously!


June 29 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  70

Average Length:  5.51

Difficulty: 4.5 out of 5

See 24 Across

After last week’s excursion into immoderate inanity, here’s a straightforward themeless.  Please share with gusto and flair; please comment if you’re so inclined.

17A:  I believe this is a universal phenomenon; I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit we have three of these in our kitchen.

24A:  The proud home of Lagavulin, which crafts wonderful whiskies.  I love their 16 year old offering (see photo above); that and the Balvenie Double Wood (non-peaty) are my go-to Scotches.

50A: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” – one of my favorite Neil Young lines, though not as good as “This much madness is too much sorrow,” which could have been the theme song for the administration of he-who-shall-not-be named (45).

8D:  Notable example:  the turtle from Kentucky

53D:  This was a new one on me, but apparently, it’s a disparaging term aimed at the less physically gifted (such as yours truly).  I checked its currency with my younger son, who is a baseball player and has heard it before.  It’s “in the language,” just not one I speak. By the way, it stands for Non-Athletic Regular Person.

55D:  Suboptimal fill, to be sure.  I thought that there was a current famous person with this surname (not Matthew of The Americans fame, who spells it Rhys), but other than a bevy of Welsh rugby and football (soccer) players, I was wrong.


June 7 Themeless

puz | pdf | solution

Word Count:  68

Average Length:  5.56

Difficulty:  3.5 out of 5

Here’s a straightforward themeless for y’all.  Solving notes (which I just realized read more like homework assignments) are below the photo.

Budding hydrangea in my backyard this morning. (48 Down)

14A:  I understand this phenomenon from the player’s perspective, but it truly dismays me as a college basketball fan.

15A:  Oz was a wonderful author of both fiction and non-fiction and a voice of wisdom, reason, and humanity.  Check out Dear Zealot, Judas, and A Tale of Love and Darkness.

27A:  18 lines, 62 words, and as lyrically powerful as anything you’ll read.  Check it out on the Poetry Foundation’s web site (

34D:  All the corvid birds (e.g., crows, ravens and the species in the answer) are amazingly intelligent animals.  See


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.


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.


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.