Sunday, January 21, 2024

LAT tk (Gareth)  


NYT 14:17 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:28 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 9:51 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo tk (Matthew) 


John Westwig’s New York Times crossword, “Funny Business” — Nate’s write-up

01.21.2024 New York Times Crossword Puzzle

01.21.2024 New York Times Crossword Puzzle

23A: [“First, I founded an aerospace start-up, but I never …”] GOT IT OFF THE GROUND
39A: [“When that fell through, I tried my hand at fishmongering, but we …”] DIDN’T SCALE WELL
56A: [“Next, I pivoted into breakfast restaurants, but competitors …”] POACHED OUR EMPLOYEES
77A: [“When I tried candlemaking, all my workers …”] SUFFERED FROM BURNOUT
92A: [“I decided to try operating an airport, but just before launch we …”] RAN OUT OF RUNWAY
112A: [“Finally, I decided to buy a grocery store on an intersection, but a rival had …”] CORNERED THE MARKET

This week’s Sunday crossword brings us more puns, with the theme entries this time pertaining to failed business ventures. Most of these theme entries work for me, but POACHED OUR EMPLOYEES isn’t a phrase in its own right, or at least not to the degree that “getting off the ground” or “running out of runway” are, so I scratched my head a bit there. I get the “poach” pun, but “our employees” feels like it was tacked on just to continue the narrative of the puzzle’s theme cluing structure.

Also, is it just me or does the story of this theme read less like “Funny Business” and more like “this boss might be not amazing, which is why their employees are suffering from burnout and being poached while the company runs out of runway and is unable to scale, perhaps because of non-ideal business decisions”?  :P

I think these past few weeks of Sunday puzzles has taught me that pun-ny themes don’t tend to do it for me, but that’s okay – all puzzles aren’t meant for just me, and I know there’ll be plenty of folks out there who really enjoy this theme (like they did last week’s), so I’m pumped for them to have a fun solve! And, having another Sunday NYT puzzle published as a teenager is a remarkable accomplishment, so kudos to this constructor!

What did you think of the puzzle? Let us know in the comments – and have a great weekend!

Justin Werfel’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Go West, Young Man”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar(ish) phrases with circled letters that spell out (non-consecutively and backwards) a well-known mountain. The revealer is BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (121a, [Film starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal … and a description of each set of circled letters]).

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Go West, Young Man” · Justin Werfel · 1.21.24

  • 22a. [Inventor of the printing press] JOHANNES GUTENBERG. Etna.
  • 35a. [Like Clark Kent] MILD-MANNERED. Denali.
  • 51a. [Musical film featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal] BEST SUMMER EVER. Everest. Two Gyllenhaals in one puzzle?!
  • 68a. [King Charles III, e.g.] REIGNING MONARCH. Rainier. Bonus points for starting with a homophone of “rain.”
  • 92a. [Headliner] STAR ATTRACTION. Ararat.
  • 106a. [Underground comix magazine featuring Robert Crumb] BIJOU FUNNIES. Fuji. New to me and there were only eight issues published between 1968 and 1973, but it helped launch the underground comix movement (per Wikipedia).

Good theme and some nice finds here. I caught on to the backward mountain idea as I went along, but the fact that they’re “broken” (and that being a feature, not a bug) was a nice, added touch. Well done.

Puzzle fill gets the job done, though without any long examples of sparkle. I really wanted DEL PRADO instead of THE PRADO, but there are plenty of examples of the phrase online. That section with MARIANA / ALA / SPRAYS crossing MAST / ALPH almost stymied me. MARIANA is a given for me but the rest of them have uncommon clues that collectively almost proved too difficult. SPRAYS at least should’ve been given a more straightforward clue than [Flower arrangements]. Partials ODE TO and OF ARC are awkward.

Other clues of note:

  • 88a. [Camelot or Gormenghast]. CASTLE. Both of these are fictional with the latter coming from a series of fantasy books, which is new to me. Another new-to-me fantasy reference is TERRI Windling at 52d [Author Windling who has won nine World Fantasy Awards].
  • 1d. [When repeated three times, “Catch-22” character]. MAJOR. I had forgotten this. MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR was so-named by his father as a joke. When he joined the army, he was quickly promoted to MAJOR thanks to “an I.B.M. machine with a sense of humor almost as keen as his father’s.”

ALPH from “Pikmin 3”

  • 72d. [Dutch astronomer Jan who postulated an eponymous “cloud” of comets]. OORT. A good name to know if you do a lot of crosswords, but also worth reading about.
  • 74d. [“Two Years Before the ___” (classic sea memoir)]. MAST. Maybe I’d heard this title before, but not enough to confidently put it in the puzzle. Anyway, it’s another story worth reading about.
  • 75d. [Sacred river in “Kubla Khan”]. ALPH. I, personally, would have also accepted [Crewmate of Brittany and Charlie in “Pikmin 3”].

Nice theme. The fill had some challenges, including plenty of less common references. 3.5 stars.

Emily Carroll’s USA Today crossword, “Girl Dinner” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme: Each theme answer is a dish with a woman’s name in it.

Theme Answers

Emily Carroll's USA Today crossword, “Girl Dinner” solution for 1/21/2024

Emily Carroll’s USA Today crossword, “Girl Dinner” solution for 1/21/2024

  • 19a [Flambeed dessert with French pancakes] CREPES SUZETTE
  • 37a [Pan-fried beef entree served with seasoned pan sauce] STEAK DIANE
  • 57a [Sicilian eggplant dish often made with rigatoni] PASTA ALLA NORMA

I saw this title and was so excited to see what was in store for me with the puzzle, and it immediately became apparent. What a clever theme! It makes great use of the “girl dinner” trend with meals that folks will likely have heard in passing, even if they’ve not had them. CREPES SUZETTE fell immediately into place for me. From there, I moved simultaneously between Across and Down, so STEAK D appeared, making it easy to finish. Likewise, the ALLA of PASTA ALLA NORMA came together to help me finish off MERLOT and RAMADA.

There were lots of fun things in this symmetric grid that I quite liked. GAL PALS and FRAZZLED were both fun. I was made jealous by 51a [Koalas do this for up to 20 hours a day] SLEEP and thought 4a [Pick-me-ups] was a good clue for BOOSTS. Suits has reentered the mainstream with its Netflix appearance, and so 34d [Cable network that aired “Suits”] was a creative clue for USA.

Overall, lots of good stuff!

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Fan Fiction” — Matt’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Fan Fiction,” 1/21/2024

A great title and a fun combo of theme set and theme clues this week from Evan: Each themer is the title of a book that contains the mascot of a major American sports team, and are reparsed and clues as if they are works about those teams, aptly under the title “Fan Fiction”

  • 23a [2015 Ken Liu novel celebrating Sacramento’s NBA players for their finesse and elegant play?] THE GRACE OF KINGS
  • 31a [2017 Margaret Rogerson novel celebrating the way Baltimore’s NFL team captivates its fans?] AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS
  • 49a [1974 Michael Shaara novel celebrating one of Los Angeles’s totally awesome MLB teams?] THE KILLER ANGELS
  • 70a [2004 Erin Hunter novel celebrating Seattle’s ascendant WNBA team?] RISING STORM
  • 85a [2022 Eva Ashwood novel celebrating New Jersey’s dazzling, exquisite NHL players?] BEAUTIFUL DEVILS
  • 104a [2007 Khaled Hosseini novel celebrating many, many great Phoenix NBA players throughout the years?] A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS
  • 116a [2008 Naomi Novik novel celebrating Philadelphia’s winning NFL team?] VICTORY OF EAGLES

I’ve only read one of these books, and not even heard of several, I’m sorry to admit. But it’s an interesting theme set. I like the consistency of each sports team coming at the end of its entry.


  • 5a [Rose who starred in “The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening”] MOIRA. This is a reference to Catherine O’Hara’s character in Schitt’s Creek.
  • 22a [“C’est La Vie” singer Robbie] NEVIL. There’s a crossword chestnut I haven’t seen in several years! Or at least, I don’t remember seeing.
  • 27a [“To boldly go where no one ___ gone before” (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” phrase)] HAS. “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” also uses this phrase, while the original series uses “where no man has gone before.”
  • 97a [Mobile entertainment] APP GAME. This phrase feels a little forced to me, but it is out there. “Mobile” as in your cellular phone.
  • 65d [Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration figure Shackleton] ERNEST. I’ve started to get videos from researchers in Antarctica in my Instagram feed. It’s fun to see the infrastructure there.
  • 100d [Inn group] GUESTS. This play on “in-group” nearly passed me by, because it works so well as a clue for guests without any sly wink to the solver.
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14 Responses to Sunday, January 21, 2024

  1. Oliver says:

    NYT – Kind of an uninspired theme for me. Sunday’s usually take me a lot longer than this one did, so it was nice to feel like I was getting it, but I could guess all the themers with barely any letters. This entire week’s themes seemed kinda meh to me.

  2. Barbara Hansen says:

    I got “business school” early on, and that made me keep thinking about an infamous alum of Wharton, noted for funny business.

  3. Mark says:

    “Poaching employees” is a real thing. It refers to hiring away a competitor’s staff, so it’s on the nose for this theme. Googling the expression brings up tons of hits.

    • Dallas says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure I understand the problem with POACHED OUR EMPLOYEES; I thought it was good, and is most certainly a real phrase. Overall a pretty quick solve; not quite personal best, but got close. One thing I noted on the app was that KITED and FRAUD seemed to be linked; I wonder if the cluing got changed later but the link was left in accidentally.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Think this varies. If you’re in the business world, it’s very in-the-language but otherwise apparently not.

    • Mr. [just a bit] Grumpy says:

      DIDN’T SCALE WELL was the one that bothered me, although I suppose it’s not unknown in business speak.

    • JohnH says:

      I’m not a business high achiever, but they were all in my vocabulary except for the no doubt newer runway idiom. Overall, not an awful puzzle or a standout, and the puns will just have to do.

  4. Mutman says:

    NYT: Let’s think about Joe/Jane Q Solver who isn’t looking for a next level theme or shaving time off their solving averages.

    They, like me, probably liked this puzzle as a fun Sunday diversion — not too tough and a satisfying solve with a few Haha moments.

    Well done, IMO.

  5. Dallas says:

    WaPo was good, though I admit that I didn’t know a single title (or author I think). At first I suspected the titles were changed into puns but then it seemed much more like actual book titles. I like AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS so maybe that will be worth a read in the future… thanks Evan!

    • Pilgrim says:

      I read Killer Angels about 30 years ago, and I had heard of A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I had to look the rest of the titles up on Amazon. I can’t imagine there is someone out there with “Rising Storm” (#88 in Children’s Cat Books) sitting on the shelf next to The Killer Angels.

  6. John Malcolm says:

    Being a live theater buff, I enjoyed the LAT romp, where the theme answers always included the titles of two shows such as “ASYOUCATSLIKEIT” for “This should be just right, my furry friends.”

  7. Roberta Verbyla says:

    Poached our employees is indeed a phrase, pun intended.

Comments are closed.