June 29 Themeless

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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

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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.


December 20 Themeless

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I constructed this one at the end of 2020, and it’s suitably difficult for what was an, um, challenging year. If you don’t know 56D and like mysteries, check him out. His Rebus books (set mostly in Edinburgh) touch all the bases in detective fiction and add lots of mordant humor and references to classic rock.


January 21 Themeless

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Another semi-tough themeless …


March 16 Themeless

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A semi-difficult themeless … a few solving notes below, but you may want to solve the puzzle before reading them.


16A:  The reference is to James Russell Lowell’s poem, “The Vision of Sir Launfal”:  “And what is so rare as a day in June/Then, if ever, come perfect days ….”  I’m not sure how I know it, but I believe it’s familiar enough to be fair fill.

18A:  In addition to being continents, Asia and Europe are rock bands formed around 1980 and, apparently, still active. Asia’s biggest hit was Heat of the Moment; Europe’s was The Final Countdown, which was used a few years ago in a clever GEICO commercial.  After a less than thorough (roughly 30 seconds) Internet search, I am fairly confident the two bands never played together.

27A:  Spammers, industrial spies, data thieves and others silently hijack a group of computers (the botnet) and use them to spread spam, disseminate malware, and steal trade secrets and identities.  It’s a shockingly common occurrence, even if it’s not a widely known word.  To learn a lot more (and probably lose some sleep), check out Nicole Perlroth’s new book, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends:  The Cyberweapons Arms Race.  It’s tense, chilling, clear, and compelling.

44A: The answer stands for Neural Processing Unit, which I didn’t know and you didn’t know (I assume).  It’s terrible fill, but it’s here because my son Adam, puzzler extraordinaire and my go-to puzzle beta tester, reworked this little portion of the grid for me to eliminate three somewhat obscure answers (SCIS was SCIF (a secure compartmented information facility), STOMP was STOMA (a leaf pore), and SPUR was FARR (the actor who played Klinger in M*A*S*H).  Alas, NPR became NPU, but the tradeoff was worth it.

55D:  STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

57D:  SATB is an acronym for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, the four main choral voices.


April 7 Themeless

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I hope you enjoy this 68-word themeless. A couple of solving notes:

My favorite clues are 60 Across and 55 Down. 47 Down refers to “The Virtuoso Pianist, written by the answer. If you’ve ever taken piano lessons, you probably know this — and remember it as the stuff of nightmares. If you’ve never taken piano lessons, the answer almost certainly will be unfamiliar, but perhaps the crosses will help. My apologies for the dreck fill at 20 Down, but needs must, and just be thankful I didn’t clue it as suggested (jokingly, I think) by my astrophysicist brother: “quark components of a Sigma baryon.”