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Solution to Zhouqin Burnikel’s March 8 Post Magazine crossword, “Literary Circles”

Though it was not possible to run guest puzzles by women in The Post for all five Sundays this month, I was happy to see that we could run one on March 8, which doubles not only as International Women’s Day but my wife’s birthday. And I was very excited that I could get Zhouqin Burnikel to write it.

Zhouqin’s clever puzzle takes seven familiar phrases that contain famous fictional women from literature, with each book’s author mentioned in the clues in parentheses:

  • 23A: [*Marie Curie and Malala Yousafzai, e.g. (Stephenie Meyer)] is NOBEL LAUREATES, which contains BELLA from the “Twilight” books.
  • 34A: [*Shakespeare’s playhouse (Louisa May Alcott)] is GLOBE THEATRE, which contains BETH from “Little Women.”
  • 41A: [*Composition that Mozart left unfinished at the time of his death (Jane Austen)] is REQUIEM MASS, which contains EMMA from “Emma.”
  • 67A: [*Security devices (Boris Pasternak)] is BURGLAR ALARMS, which contains LARA from “Doctor Zhivago.”
  • 72A: [*Scandalous period in baseball history (Nathaniel Hawthorne)] is THE STEROID ERA, which contains HESTER from “The Scarlet Letter.”
  • 95A: [*Child’s specialty (George R.R. Martin)] is CULINARY ART, which contains ARYA from “A Game of Thrones” and the other books in “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
  • 102A: [*”Oh, come on!” (Thomas Hardy)] is FOR PETE’S SAKE, which contains TESS from “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.”

The theme answers are neatly tied together with the revealer at 120A: [Improve one’s moral strength … and what the starred answers and this puzzle’s authors both do?], which is BUILD CHARACTER.

What I especially like about this puzzle, besides the theme which I think is very impressive, is just how colorful many of Zhouqin’s clues are. SEXIEST at 40A could easily get a simple definitional clue like [Most erotic] or something like that, but Zhouqin gave it a modern spin with [2019 People magazine adjective for John Legend]. She managed to weave together two echoing clues in the consecutive Down answers SOUR and ASIA, clued as [Like kimchi or umeboshi] and [Where kimchi and umeboshi are staples], respectively. ALP at 121D: [Mountain seen from many Swissair flights], which is an angle I’ve never seen before for that answer. It’s that attention to detail and thinking of new, creative ways to describe common crossword answers that really makes Zhouqin’s work shine.

About the puzzle’s author herself: Zhouqin grew up in China and moved to the United States in 2001. She began constructing crosswords in 2010 both as a fun leisure activity and as a tool for learning English. Since then, she’s built hundreds and hundreds of puzzles, becoming one of the most prolific (and, in my opinion, one of the most talented) crossword constructors anywhere. Rarely does a week or two go by without Zhouqin’s byline appearing in a newspaper puzzle somewhere. In the past week alone, in addition to today’s Post puzzle, she constructed the USA Today crosswords for March 1 and March 4, the Universal Sunday crossword for March 1, and the New York Times crossword for March 5. Other weeks, you can find her work in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Inkubator, and the occasional crossword tournament (she has written puzzles for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola, and Crosswords L.A.). Zhouqin produces a staggering amount of puzzles and they’re always clever and fun. She also started the L.A. Times Crossword Corner daily puzzle blog back in 2008 and it’s still running today.

Zhouqin had this to say about today’s puzzle:

GLOBE THEATRE was Evan’s suggestion. I originally had a shaky THE IDIOT BOX to hide HEIDI. Gridwise, I settled down on an all-across design after finding out that there’s a confusing extra A if I cross FOR PETE’S SAKE with BURGLAR ALARMS. THE STEROID ERA and GLOBE THEATRE intersect nicely though. The METRO AREA section gave me some trouble in the filling process. Evan helped me remove a few wobbly entries in the upper right and the upper left areas.

It’s a privilege to make this puzzle for the Washington Post. I learned a lot from Evan. He’s so detail-oriented and considerate. Lots of clues in this puzzle has his input. Quite a few are his creations. His test solvers also gave amazing feedback. So much care in The Post Sunday puzzles. Thank you, Evan and the team!

Thank you very much to Zhouqin for her puzzle today!

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