Sunday, January 14, 2024

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 16:57, then revealed three squares (Nate) 


USA Today 2:56 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 13-something (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 5:36 (Matthew) 


John Kugelman’s New York Times crossword, “Er, In Other Words” — Nate’s write-up

01.14.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

01.14.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword

– 20A: SUPER DUPER [Great ape?]
– 22A: JUNK DRAWER [Erotic artist?]
– 37A: WANDER AROUND TOWN [Street magician?]
– 60A: CHICKEN TENDERS [Farmers?]
– 71A: FLICKER OF LIGHT [Switch hitter?]
– 95A: NUMBER OF THE BEAST [Animal tranquilizer?]
– 113A / 117A: AN OFFER YOU / CAN’T REFUSE [With 117-Across, the Grim Reaper?]

So, we have phrases where a word ending in -ER is a (homonym? homograph? heteronym?) that can be read another way, given a slightly different stress on the word, to result in an entry matching the clue (hence, the puzzle’s title). A [Great ape?] is a SUPER DUPE-R (super copier), an [Erotic artist?] is a JUNK DRAW-ER (one who draws someone’s junk (private parts)), etc. I’ll say that this puzzle wasn’t for me – with so many adventurous and inventive Sunday puzzles lately, this felt to me like a theme that would have run decades ago, with theme entries that felt expected. I did appreciate that the theme clues themselves were quite succinct, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the shrug I had at solving.

My other small annoyance was that this was the first Sunday NYT in ages I couldn’t fully complete. The ELEA / PEREMPTORY / PETER (clued sneakily) / AUROR section in the bottom left section of the grid resulted in three squares where I had no clue what to fill in. One could argue that stronger editing might have looked like giving PETER a more accessible clue (rather than a devious Peter Pan sleight of hand) to allow for more reasonable access to the other potentially unfamiliar fill. NITER / ELSIE will likely also be a tough crossing for some, and I’d argue that the clue for 51D BODY CAM miiiiight benefit from the word “alleged” at the front.

On a positive note, I did enjoy entries like 31A’s [Let me be perfectly QUEER” (Pride slogan)” (especially crossing the title of an Indigo Girls son!) and modern STREAMERS at 120A. But please don’t DINE and dash… servers already get paid so little as it is!

I’m sorry I don’t have more positive things to say about my experience solving this puzzle, but I hope it was a puzzle that you enjoyed! At the very least, I hope you’re having a nice weekend and that 2024 is treating you well.

Edited to add: I am relieved to see that many people in the crossword Discord server really enjoyed this puzzle, so I’m quite happy to be in the minority on this one. Glad the puzzle is resonating with folks!

LAT crossword, “Posted” by Darryl Gonzalez — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Messages that one finds on signs are reinterpreted as though they apply to unusual settings.

LA Times crossword solution — “Posted” by Darryl Gonzalez

  • 23A. [Sign in a stadium locker room?] = DON’T TURN OFF THE FAN
  • 32A. [Sign in a writer’s room?] = AUTHORIZED STAFF ONLY
  • 58A. [Sign in a therapist’s reception room?] = VISITORS MUST SHOW ID
  • 84A. [Sign at a law firm specializing in the Fifth Amendment?] = NOTICE NO ADMITTANCE
  • 107A. [Sign at a cafeteria?] = CAUTION FORK LIFT AREA
  • 120A. [Sign at a used bike shop?] = PLEASE RECYCLE HERE


This theme didn’t do much for me. Many of the signs don’t resonate as classic sign messages. When was the last time you saw a sign that said DON’T TURN OFF THE FAN? When you Google “don’t turn off the fan,” signs don’t even come up in the results. The puns are a little loose too. AUTHORIZED in a writer’s room because it has the word “author” in it? I.D. having to be read as “id” (as in id, ego, and superego)? RECYCLE for used bike shop? CAUTION FORK LIFT AREA is somewhat funny in that people lift forks in cafeterias, but why the caution? These just don’t snap into place for me. I hope they worked better for other solvers.

Sometimes when you’re not on the same wavelength as a theme, you can still enjoy the crossword as though it were a themeless, but unfortunately I had trouble doing that today as well. The theme entries are not too exciting as stand alone phrases. Nobody would ever seed a themeless puzzle with NOTICE NO ADMITTANCE. There also wasn’t much in the way of bonus long entries to keep me occupied beyond the theme. And too much subpar fill like ENER, ETH, ULE, ERST, IT PROS, TRY A, ET ALII, along with an abundance of prepositional phrases: SEW ON, SLOW UP, KEPT IN, SETS TO, CLEAVE TO.

I hate to be a downer and don’t enjoy being so critical as I know how much work constructors pour into their craft. I sincerely hope that others enjoyed the puzzle and I’m in the minority.

To end on a positive point, I really like the clue 15D. [Cast party?] = COVEN.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Breaking a Sweet” — Matt’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Breaking a Sweet,: 1/14/2024

It doesn’t take long to find today’s theme: cookie brands span multiple answers in six different rows:

  • 25-27a CHI/PSA/HOY (the last section, part of HOYLE)
  • 34-37a LO/RNA/DOONE (the first section, part of MARLO)
  • 51-54a F/AMO/US A/MOS (NUFF and MOSHPITS providing the beginning and end)
  • 75-76a MIL/ANO (ANON at the end)
  • 87-91a N/UTTER/BUT/TER (ESPN to start, TERSE to end)
  • 97-103a O/TIS/SPUNK/MEY/ER (MOO to start, ERA to end)

A central revealer is apt: [Slicing tools in a bakery … or what several black squares in this puzzle represent] COOKIE CUTTERS

What’s more, there are squares below the grid. In the .pdf and on AmuseLabs, they’re numbered Acrostic-style. Grabbing the a letter from one of each cookie, they aptly spell out CRUMBS, a byproduct of breaking cookies, as this grid does.

A fun – and fast – romp.


  • 23a [Smooth, as feathers] PREEN. PREEN as a transitive verb is new to me, but it’s popped up in a few puzzles lately.
  • 77a [Consoles with paddles] ATARIS. This is a little before my time, but at some point I had a cross or two and it could be nothing else.
  • 87a [Network responding to “Woj bombs” from Adrian Wojnarowski] ESPN. “Woj bombs” being breaking news of some sort. Usually basketball-related, I think.
  • 115a [Question-and-answer sessions?] TESTS. I thought this was well done!
  • 12d [Source of Thunder claps, perhaps?] NBA FAN. The Thunder being Oklahoma City’s NBA team.
  • 16d [Food from the Italian for “small strings”] SPAGHETTI. Obvious now that I see it, but I’ve never considered this before
  • 31d [Constellation whose name is the Latin term for a mythical beast] DRACO. As in “dragon.”
  • 62d [VMI athletes] KEYDETS. A play on “cadets”, as the initials of VMI stand for “Virginia Military Institute”
  • 97d [Dish from Papua New Guinea with a reduplicative name] MUMU. A pork and sweet potato dish named after the oven it’s traditionally cooked in.

Paul Coulter’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Post-It Notes”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar(ish) two-word phrases that start with a state name. Their clues are common words or phrases that begin with the two-letter postal abbreviation for the pertinent state and end with a synonym for the second word in the entry.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Post-It Notes” · Paul Coulter · 1.14.24

  • 22a. [*FLutter?] FLORIDA STATE. FL is the abbreviation for Florida, and “utter” is a synonym of “state.”
  • 37a. [*ALpen?] ALABAMA SLAMMER. Vaguely familiar with Alpen being the name of a cereal. Yup, it’s a brand of muesli. The word Alpen also means “Alps” in German.
  • 48a. [*CAshes?] “CALIFORNIA GIRLS.” Meh. Not a fan of the word “shes” (or “hes” for that matter) used as a plural noun.
  • 66a. [*DEbark?] DELAWARE BAY. To bark isn’t really to bay now, is it? One is short, the other long. But online dictionaries often have “bark” in their definitions of “bay,” so maybe my thinking is off.
  • 84a. [*PAst?] PENNSYLVANIA AVE. With “St.” hinting at the abbreviation “Ave.”
  • 94a. [*MOdell?] MISSOURI VALLEY. Modell? Maybe Art Modell the NFL bigwig? I expect people who don’t follow football wouldn’t know the name.
  • 117a. [*IN need?] INDIANA JONES. Best one for last. This one gave me a chuckle.

A little hit-or-miss with me, but not bad overall. Having the state name essentially given away in the clue ceded a lot of grid real estate and prevented the puzzle from becoming a slog.

Plenty to like in the long fill, especially ATOM SMASHER and ENDLESS LOOP. Other goodies: SIDECARS (the drinks), LOST SOUL, EYELASHES, SLOVENIA (had to leave two letters blank for a while in case it was Slovakia), TAHITI (where we honeymooned), IN THE BAG, and TOP SEEDS. Those outweigh the likes of ENISLE, EX OUT, ADDRESS TO, and ODED. Not everyone will like the BEAV [Wally’s little bro on TV], but that was one of my shows growing up (even though it was first on in the ’50s, and I was an ’80s kid).

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Workplace for a forensic team]. DNA LAB. Hmm. Would a forensic team actually have a lab dedicated to DNA testing, or would they just have a lab for all sorts of experimentation?
  • 20a. [Square things?]. ATONE. Good, tricky clue. “Square” is a verb here.
  • 103a. [Get old]. PALL. Needed to check and re-check this as I’m only familiar with the “feeling of gloom” definition.
  • 4d. [Lawrence of Scandinavia?]. LARS. Ha! Cute clue.
  • 7d. [“___way!”]. ATTA. First time seeing this clued without “boy” or “girl” nor as the Indian flour.

3.25 stars from me.

Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “Park Outside” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

Theme: The letters in PARK bookend each theme answer.

Theme Answers

Stella Zawistowski's USA Today crossword, “Park Outside" solution for 1/14/2024

Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today crossword, “Park Outside” solution for 1/14/2024

  • 19a [Part of a description of a mullet] PARTY IN THE BACK
  • 38a [Comma or colon] PUNCTUATION MARK
  • 53a [Game in which players compete to build the highest-scoring quilt] PATCHWORK

This makes for a nice set of themers. I thought including PARTY IN THE BACK was very cute and definitely a creative theme for this bookend set. PUNCTUATION MARK fell right into place for me, but I needed a sec on PATCHWORK, waiting for the crosses to help me out. TERRA, USED TO BE, and TOMATO made all the difference since it’s a fairly intuitive clue/answer combo even if you don’t know the game. Not having ESCROW at first made it slightly harder, but not by much.

My solve on this is one of my personal bests on USA Today puzzles, coming in just under three minutes. I liked so much of this, VEGANISM and FACT CHECK were both pretty fun, as were UPKEEP and USED TO BE. I also liked the cluing on 56a [Crawfish ___ (New Orleans event)] BOIL (perhaps because I was hungry while solving; 64a [___ methi (potato dish)] ALOO didn’t help with this either. A bonus NOLA connection also appears in 1a [Culinary pro such as Leah Chase] CHEF.

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21 Responses to Sunday, January 14, 2024

  1. JohnH says:

    I was disappointed in the NYT, too. Indeed, coming to an end, all I could think was that it must be me, demanding too much. But I still wish it were otherwise.

    My first theme fill, SUPER-DUPER, was momentarily puzzling and then admirable, but I couldn’t be sure it was a themer. It’s the kind of deceptive cluing you see all the time. Once I saw that puns did set off themers, I kept thinking, so what? There are an awful lot of puns in the world, so surely there must be something constricting them and adding to the trickery. The title had me thinking that maybe they depend on wordplay involving ER, but nope. It’s just that the entries include those two letters. So what?

    That and too many proper names. (Have to say that my tough crossing with ELSIE, who might have been Ellie to me, wasn’t NITER, which I knew. It was its crossing proper name, MESSI, although I’ve read some of his sports news.) But mostly just meh.

    • Gary R says:

      Similar reaction here. SUPER DUPER and JUNK DRAWER got a smile out of me CHICKEN TENDERS was okay. The rest fell a little flat.

      Liked the clue for TIM COOK.

      I often skip Sundays, or just do enough to see what the theme is and then quit before it becomes a slog. Probably should have skipped this one.

  2. P. Merrell says:

    This is the kind of classic theme I never get tired of. The idea is simple, the answers are funny and clever, and I especially appreciate that the clues aren’t long and contorted — instead, they’re short, recognizable phrases that add an extra dose of wit. I’m very happy to find a puzzle like this mixed in with others types.

  3. David L says:

    I liked ANOFFERYOUCANTREFUSE and NUMBEROFTHEBEAST, and the others were fine if not particularly exciting.

    I thought it was an odd choice to clue PEREMPTORY via a specialized legal meaning that I assume will be mysterious to many solvers, especially as it crosses the somewhat cryptically clued PETER. That corner was the toughest for me.

  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Pet peeve in the NYT: mixing a Latin plural (CURRICULA) with an Anglicized Latinate plural (VORTEXES instead of vortices). Sloppy.

    • AlexK says:

      Yes! Thank you! I put vortices first, and the down-fill required an obvious quick change back, but I was still sore at this. Glad I’m not the only one!

    • Dallas says:

      Yeah, I did *not* care for VORTEXES over VORTICES (especially because the latter shows up quite a bit in condensed matter physics that I don’t think I ever see the former). But that, admittedly, a “me” problem :-)

    • JT says:

      TOTALLY! This really got under my skin and I couldn’t figure out why until reading your comment, thank you.

    • Dan says:

      I didn’t care about the “mixing”, but I do like to see preferred plurals, which for vortex is vortices, not vortexes.

    • R says:

      It’s extraordinary how sloppy others can be at following fake rules that you made up that nobody knows or cares about.

  5. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT … I gotta agree with the reviewer here. This puzzle really fell flat for me. None of the themers landed and I found the fill cluing pretty strained in places. I find it very tough to maintain my focus with puzzles like this, particularly when it’s a 21x grid.

  6. David L says:

    LAT: I thought most of the themers were cute, although AUTHORIZEDSTAFFONLY doesn’t work. What’s ‘authorized’ are books, not the people who write them.

    There were a few questionable clues. AVERTS and ‘avoids’ don’t mean the same thing, and when you SCALD a vegetable you plunge it briefly into hot water. ‘Bring to a near boil’ is what you do to the water.

    I had GETSTO for 96A, but changed it when I saw that 96D had to be SPOTLIT — which made no sense to me. But googling SUPERTROUPER revealed (after I had scrolled through the Abba citations) that it’s a brand of spotlight. Maybe people in LA know that; seems obscure, though.

  7. Bryan says:

    NYT: Well, I for one really enjoyed this one. “Junk drawer” and “an offer you can’t refuse” both made me chuckle out loud, which is rare for crossword themers. I loved the deviousness of the Peter Pan clue. And the “what a crackerjack cracker jacks” clue also made me smile and is one of my nominees for clue of the year thus far.

  8. JT says:

    NYT – why the heck did Tim Cook show up in both the regular and mini puzzles today? One was an answer, the other part of a clue, but it was really odd to see this guy I don’t think about even once a year just appear twice back to back in my day.

    • Bryan says:

      I noticed that too. I’m convinced that occasionally Joel Fagliano intentionally echoes in the mini whatever is going to be in that day’s regular grid, just to be playful. Sometimes it seems to be more than just coincidence. Either way, I think it’s cool when it happens.

      • Katie says:

        NYT (Sunday&Mini) – Thnx for mentioning this! I got “TIMCOOK” as fill only via crossings (i.e., was fooled, as intended, by “Big Apple” clue — even though it crossed iOS). [Yes. me = idiot.] Maybe next time I’ll do the mini, and do it first, just in case there is a hint… :-P

        BTW, on Wikipedia, Cook has an interesting signature — almost like a pre-Notability-era complaint to the iPad team.

  9. Dallas says:

    Enjoyed Evan’s Sunday WaPo. Some fun “new dad” fill and cluing with ONESIE regarding Diaper Duty. Some proper names I wasn’t familiar with, but the crossings were all fair. I liked the squares laid out for the meta (and also being below the grid too). Fun Sunday!

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