Sunday, January 28, 2024

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 16:27 (Nate) 


USA Today 3:40 (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) untimed (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 6:30 (Matthew) 


Nathan Hasegawa’s New York Times crossword, “Hammer Time” — Nate’s write-up

01.28.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle

01.28.2024 Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle

56A: OZONE (HOLE) [Climate issue addressed in the Montreal Protocol]
57D: (HOLE) CARD [It’s facedown on a poker table]

68A: GO W(HOLE) HOG [Approach something with gusto]
43D: PIN(HOLE) [Primitive camera feature]

92A: BLACK (HOLE) [Point of no return?]
76D: FOX (HOLE) [Military hiding spot]

95A: (HOLE) IN ONE [Ace]
77D: RAT (HOLE) [Place that’s cramped and squalid]

60A: (MOLE)CULES [What’s the matter?]
60D: (MOLE)SKIN [Cotton fabric often used in bandages]

(Gray squares in rough shape of a mallet spell MALLET right over the (MOLE) square)

26A: SMASHING SUCCESS [Massive victory … or a high score in 113-Across?]
113A: WHACAMOLE [Game represented visually in this puzzle]

What I loved about this puzzle:
– This puzzle had a creative theme and gorgeous grid / layout design of both the black squares and the WHACAMOLE board. The black square design looks like a mole’s face, maybe?
– I liked the extra commitment to the bit by having the successful MALLET finding the (MOLE) to match with the SMASHING SUCCESS idea.

What I didn’t love as much:
– All of the (HOLE) rebuses were HOLE in their entries except for the one that was part of W(HOLE), which felt a tad inelegant.
– Some of the sections of the grid were tougher for me on average. I’m guessing some folks might get stuck on the PLOSIVE / SAMSA crossing, for example. LYON / YENTL / ALOU might also be tough for some, as might GAIUS / MILNE / DELILLO and SIDESLIP / LISLE.
– There were some non-theme-related dupes (SLOT CAR and ZIP CARS being one of the more obvious examples), and I wonder if there was a way to avoid those.

Overall, a generally fun solve with a creative theme – which is what I hope for in a Sunday puzzle. I hope you felt the same!

Okay, gotta run, but let us know what you thought of the puzzle. How far into the puzzle did you find the (MOLE)? Did you get it on first whack, or did you find mostly (HOLE)s at first? Also, have a great week!

LA Times crossword “That’s Amore” by Gary Larson & Amy Ensz — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Common phrases have the letter A added to their beginning, generating new funky phrases with funky clues.

LA Times crossword solution — “That’s Amore” by Gary Larson & Amy Ensz

  • 3D. [Rock collector?] = AGATE KEEPER (gatekeeper)
  • 16D. [Stood up as friends?] = AROSE BUDS (rose buds)
  • 25A. [Bit of support on the job] = AMEN AT WORK (men at work)
  • 42A. [Leave everyone amazed?] = AWE THE PEOPLE (we the people)
  • 67A. [In-house water source?] = ABODE WELL (bode well)
  • 72D. [Row in Petco?] = AISLE OF DOGS (isle of dogs)
  • 83D. [Mixture for a Pennsylvania Dutch brewer?] = AMISH MASH (mish mash)
  • 98A. [Collect music publishing copyright?] = AMASS NUMBERS (mass numbers)
  • 119A. [Legislative branch that is mindful and introspective?] AWARE HOUSE (warehouse)

Add-a-letter themes are as old as crosswords, but you don’t typically see the new letters added at the beginning of phrases. A lot of these work well and produce funny results. AWE THE PEOPLE and AMISH MASH are probably my favorites. Isle becoming aisle is also a nice transformation. The theme seems ripe for a revealer – some punny phrase the unifies everything. I wonder if the constructors considered that and didn’t find anything or if they thought a revealer would be overkill.

I found this much harder than most LAT Sundays. I think there are several reasons for this: tough (but fair!) cluing, some overly obscure entries, and some unfortunate crossings.

On the cluing front:

  • 22A. [Lacking a paper trail] = ORAL
  • 28A. [Partridge family member] = PHEASANT. Great clue misdirecting to the sitcom, although family being lowercase is a hint.
  • 48D. [Tech startup?] = NANO as in nanotech
  • 97A. [Post-dubbing title] = SIR. To dub is to tap on the shoulder and confer knighthood
  • 98D. [Close] = AIRLESS. I don’t get this one. Are these synonyms? Or is there wordplay here that I don’t understand?

Like I said, totally fair clues, just at a level I’m more used to seeing in a themeless.

Obscure entries:

  • 112D. [Bygone blades] = SNEES
  • 94A. [“___-in-the-Mist”: novel by Hope Mirrlees] = LUD
  • 75A. [Sanctimonious sort] = PHARISEE
  • 113D [Carpentry slot] = DADO
  • 6D. [Stingy sort] = EL CHEAPO

I use the term cheapo, but I can’t recall seeing el cheapo anywhere. I’m sure these won’t all be obscure for all of you, but they certainly slowed down my solve.

On the crossing front, ARHAT crossing ADELINE will probably give some solvers trouble. I’m curious to know if others found this puzzle tough or if I’m alone here.

My favorite clue/answer pair in the puzzle is 116A. [One well-versed in competition?] = SLAM POET. A perfect clue for a lovely entry.

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword, “Inner Voice” — Matthew’s write-up

Evan Birnholz’ Washington Post crossword solution, “Inner Voice,” 1/28/24

I didn’t spot today’s theme until the revealer at the very end, even with theme clues marked by asterisks. My highlighted grid solution aside, it’s probably easier to spot in this arrangement:

  • 22a [*”Get cracking!”] GO TO IT
  • 23a [*”We don’t need to sugarcoat it”] LETS BE REAL
  • 33a [*”I want candy!”] TRICK OR TREAT
  • 36a [*”We’re close by”] ITS NOT FAR
  • 49a [*”Let me count the ways”] WHERE TO BEGIN
  • 65a [*”Lucky you”] MUST BE NICE
  • 69a [*”Knock it off!”] CUT THAT OUT
  • 87a [*”How can you tell them apart?”] WHICH IS WHICH
  • 100a [*”Floor it!”] HIT THE GAS
  • 103a [*”I have to ask …”] MY QUESTION IS
  • 115a [Marking in the middle of the road … or an alternate title for this puzzle] CENTER LINE
  • 199a [Speaker of the quote that’s found in the middle of the starred answers] HAMLET

Taking the middle of each themer (by both words and letters) yields the line TO BE OR NOT TO BE THAT IS THE QUESTION, delivered by HAMLET and an apt “center line.”

Evan shared with me that he initially was set to use “Inner Monologue” as a title before learning that soliloquies (as this Hamlet speech is) and monologues are not the same. I think I would have spotted the theme much more quickly with “Inner Monologue,” but the pair of revealers were more than enough to make the game clear.


  • 15a [Round house?] PUB. As in a place where rounds (of drinks) are found.
  • 77a [Offering of praise while slamming?] ODE. A tricky play on “slam” as “diss” and as in “poetry slam”
  • 88d [Flatwork ___ (industrial laundry machine used for pressing linens)] IRONER. This is new to me, but the clue parenthetical does plenty to help a solver along.
  • 112d [Super Bowl XLVIII-winning coach Carroll] PETE. It’s nice to see a string of Roman numerals and not have to do anything with them. Carroll retired from the Seattle Seahawks a week or two ago.

Celeste Watts & Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Away With Words”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are idiomatic phrases that, when read literally, suggest a word that should be removed somewhere. That somewhere is in the clue where we find a capitalized word from which we can remove the key word in the phrase. What’s leftover is related to the remainder of the clue.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Away With Words” · Celeste Watts & Jeff Chen · 1.28.24

  • 21a. [*How did the cruciverbalists commercialize a BALLAD? They ___] DROPPED THE BALL. Remove BALL from BALLAD to turn it into an AD which is a “commercialization.”
  • 35a. [*How did the cruciverbalists suck all the life out of a DRAWING? They ___] PULLED OFF A WIN. DRAWING – WIN = DRAG.
  • 41a. [*How did the cruciverbalists molder a LIGAMENT? They ___] LOST THE GAME. LIGAMENT – GAME = LINT.
  • 58a. [*How did the cruciverbalists make a HEATHEN chicken? They ___] TURNED DOWN THE HEAT. HEATHEN – HEAT = HEN.
  • 77a. [*How did the cruciverbalists find the middle of the CENTIMETER? They ___] TOOK TIME OFF. CENTIMETER – TIME = CENTER. This one’s a nice find.
  • 84a. [*How did the cruciverbalists make a FATALIST a star? They ___] TRIMMED THE FAT. FATALIST – FAT = A-LIST.
  • 103a. [*How did the cruciverbalists make a poet read her PASTORAL out loud? They ___] LET GO OF THE PAST. PASTORAL – PAST = ORAL.

These were hit-and-miss for me with some of them getting a little goofy and nonsensical (especially the LIGAMENT one). On the other hand that CENTIMETER one is really nice. It has good surface sense, and I’ll give it bonus points for having TIME in the exact CENTER of CENTIMETER. Nice.

Elsewhere, we find some really sparkly long Downs: PUPU PLATTER, SESAME STREET, KUNG FU MOVIES, a quaint “WHAT A HOOT!,” and “AND THAT’S THAT!” Plus, there’s HELLUVA, OREO PIE, YONKERS, and the juxtaposition of AUTEUR and OTTERS. Did not know PERETTI [Tiffany’s iconic jewelry designer], but the crossings were fair.

Andre Braugher as Raymond Holt

Clues of note:

  • 29a. [Canon and Xerox rival]. EPSON. This tested my personal mnemonic of whether the answer should be EPSOM or EPSON. “Printer” has an N in it, so the answer should be EPSON. Anything else (salts, horse race, town in England) should be EPSOM. Ergo, I’m happy to report that my mnemonic worked.
  • 55a. [Like Mr. Darcy or Raymond Holt]. STOIC. Needed most of the crossings since I didn’t know the demeanor of these two characters. Raymond Holt was Andre Braugher’s character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sadly, the actor passed away just last month.
  • 69a. [Overdraw a line of credit?]. BRAG. This one’s a bit of a stretch.
  • 36d. [“Happy Days” star]. FONZ. First off, it’s “Fonzie” or “The FONZ.” Second, The FONZ was a character on the show. The character is not the star, the actor is. Henry Winkler was definitely a star on Happy Days, but I’d say the star of Happy Days was Ron Howard.

Lovely, smooth fill and a creative theme (though it sometimes over-stretched). 3.5 stars.

Nate Cardin’s USA Today crossword, “BCC Me” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme: Each theme answer is three words, the first letters of which spell out BCC.

Theme Answers

Nate Cardin's USA Today crossword, “BCC Me” solution for 1/28/2024

Nate Cardin’s USA Today crossword, “BCC Me” solution for 1/28/2024

  • 20a [Poultry dish named for the vessel it’s cooked around] BEER CAN CHICKEN
  • 39a [Corporation with a great reputation] BLUE CHIP COMPANY
  • 55a [Mini veggies made by cutting fully grown versions] BABY CUT CARROTS

When I filled in BEER CAN CHICKEN today, I was so stoked. I love that as a theme answer (and just an answer in general). BLUE CHIP COMPANY was a great spanner, though I needed some help from TABS, DECAF LATTE, CYNIC, and ON AIR to get it. I was familiar with this concept, but I think it’s a nice one to sprinkle in with this theme, especially since the other two themers are food items (though you won’t hear me complaining about this).

There was also lot of great fill, and I moved pretty quickly through the puzzle thanks to its cleanliness. I thought that 1a [Parenthesis shape] was a nice angle for ARC, and it was cute to have NOOB and TUBE rhyming next to one another. Plus DECAF LATTE and SPRAY PAINT provided some great bonus longer fill. Plus, I also liked seeing 48d [Seasonal fast-food pork sandwiches] MCRIBS and the mention of 54d [“Avatar: The Legend of ___”] KORRA (especially with the new trailer for the live action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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19 Responses to Sunday, January 28, 2024

  1. Eric H. says:

    NYT: I too enjoyed the theme, despite never having played WHAC-A-MOLE.

    After getting the first [HOLE], I rashly put [HOLE] in every square with a circle. No [MOLE] made [MOLE]SKIN hard to see.

    And I made a typo in ESAU that took a while to find at the end. I looked for it using the List mode on my phone, which literally reduced the impact of the fun graphic flourish at the end.

    Otherwise, it was pretty typical for a Sunday puzzle.

  2. JohnH says:

    NYT ok. Some fill was were trying a bit hard, like HEROIZE and IN SCALE, or ditto some cluing, like the novel way to clue ENOLA Holmes, a name I knew anyway only from crosswords (clued before that of course via ENOLA Gay). But I like rebuses, so fine.

    Must admit the theme still puzzled me. In what way does the grid represent the theme? I see just the few circled answers and the well-placed shaded MALLET, which leaves a lot of space (although nice rewards like SMASHING SUCCESS). I gather that, in the game itself, the mallet whacks the Mole toward one of the few holes. Is their placement that of the game itself or just crossword symmetry? Sorry for my ignorance, but you can see why the puzzle never quite caught on with me.

    • Eric H. says:

      If I remember correctly, this is the eighth time the NYT has clued ENOLA to the Holmes character. Some clues have referred to the YA series, some to the Netflix adaptation. It’s a refreshing change from the Hiroshima bomber.

      I haven’t read ENOLA Holmes books, but we enjoyed the first two series and are looking forward to the third.

  3. pannonica says:

    NYT: Not a fan of the theme. I know it’s based on a relatively abstract game, but still there’s implied animal cruelty. Along with that, the nonjudgmental clue at 103d [Performer with lions] TAMER. There’s a reason such acts are obsolescent.

  4. armagh says:

    NYT: Who the hell plays this arcade game past the age of 12? Really Will? Bad decision, bad editing (Heroize???), juvenile concept.

    • dh says:

      “Whack-a-mole” is a common idiom in the language for dealing with problems that arise faster than one can address them. I’m surprised no one here has pointed that out; it’s a pretty familiar slang term I hear often. In a more literal usage, I play Whack-a-mole every spring and summer with the groundhogs that dig up my backyard, but I use hav-a-hart traps instead of a mallet. (Though I once dispatched a rat with a sledge hammer that had gotten his leg trapped in a spring-trap. Even though it haunts me to this day, I regard that moment as an act of kindness rather than cruelty). As a faculty member in a large university with an equally large administrative bureaucracy, I play Whack-a-mole every day. It’s a very apt term.

      • dh says:

        Coincidentally, there was an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the drone strikes in Iran with this line:

        “He has no choice now other than to approve strikes in retaliation, but targeting the responsible militia is insufficient. Mr. Biden and the Pentagon are playing Mideast Whac-a-Mole.”

    • Gary R says:

      Maybe not so much juvenile as just dated. Used to find the game in college bars – 40-some years ago! Interestingly, the game seemed to become more challenging as the evening wore on. I heroized the folks who could get a high score near last call. ;-)

  5. huda says:

    NYT: I too thought it was very creative, and a great departure from the usual Sunday material. But the section with the MALLET felt hard to me, and I guess HEROIZE is legit, but it took me a very long time to come up with it– HONORED, then LIONIZE, before going back to the H and shoving it in there…

  6. PJ says:

    LAT – 98D. [Close] = AIRLESS. I don’t get this one. Are these synonyms? Or is there wordplay here that I don’t understand?

    Jack, the best I can come up with is close meaning crowded as in close quarters.

    • Martin says:

      From P.G. Wodehouse:

      He sighed drowsily. The atmosphere of the auction room was close; you weren’t allowed to smoke; and altogether he was beginning to regret that he had come.

    • Seattle DB says:

      LAT editor(s) muck up clues quite often, and it’s normal for their puzzles to rate below average here.

  7. David L says:

    LAT: “Dworshak structure” for DAM seems very obscure to me, but maybe it’s better known to West Coasters.

    What is the base phrase for AMASSNUMBERS? Does it refer to atomic masses, or to the numbers of hymns?

    “Close” meaning “hot and stuffy” is M-W definition #9 under adjectives. It’s familiar to me but it may be more common in the UK.

  8. AB says:


    In one of the comments here:

    someone cites a definition for “close” meaning “uncomfortably humid or airless,” with the usage example: “a close, hazy day.” M-W has “hot and stuffy.”

    Never heard that meaning before.

    • Gary R says:

      I think it may be a little old-timey, maybe rural? My mother, who was raised on a farm in the early 1900’s would sometimes say, “the air is close today.” I don’t recall hearing it from anyone other than her.

      • Linda says:

        My mom would just say, it’s so close. It meant the storm, actually. Like the quiet before the storm. And, like you, I haven’t heard the phrase since she said it. I’ve tried to say it but no one gets it.

  9. Frank K. says:

    Sunday January 28 NYT:
    The one hole that was “mole” is unfair! Boo!

  10. Frank K. says:

    Jan 28 NYT
    The one hole that was “mole” was unfair! Booo!

Comments are closed.