wordplay, the crossword column
Celebrate the holiday with Bruce Haight’s patriotic puzzle.
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MONDAY PUZZLE — Happy Independence Day, solvers! Today we have a puzzle from Bruce Haight, who is making his 59th appearance in the New York Times Crossword. Mr. Haight has constructed a timely and thematically appropriate puzzle to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Today, I wanted to share a solving tip with new solvers (so veterans, just hang on for a second, or move ahead to the Tricky Clues section). One thing I’ve been surprised to hear from new solvers is that they sometimes don’t realize that each week, five out of seven New York Times Crossword puzzles are themed. That means many of them will attempt the Monday puzzle without the knowledge that somewhere in the puzzle, there’s a unifying concept or idea that gives the grid a reason for existing.
If you are such a solver, please know that you are not alone! But for your solves going forward, one of the best tips I can give you is to try to identify the theme and the theme entries. You are usually (but not always) going to find them in the long Across entries, and sometimes, as with today’s puzzle, you’ll also have what we call a “revealer,” which is an entry that tells you the theme.
And sometimes, usually later in the week when the puzzles get harder, the theme entries won’t be possible to figure out using just their own clues. That is, you’ll read the clue, but something weird will be going on with it, and you’ll need a better understanding of the theme in order to figure out exactly what the entry is. And if you’re thinking, “But how do I figure out the theme if I can’t figure out the theme entries?” — well, that’s a reasonable question! The answer: Use the crossing entries. If the theme entries are in their normal long-Across spots, the Down entries going through them will be invaluable to cracking the code needed to spot the theme and solve the puzzle. So, when it comes Down to it (see what I did there?), your best bet for unraveling a tricky theme is to solve the Down clues when you get stuck. Or just read the Wordplay column for an explanation of the puzzle’s theme and its trickiest clues! Speaking of which …
1A. This is a tough bit of crossword lingo right off the bat! File away “French fashion monogram” as a perennial clue for YSL, short for Yves Saint Laurent, a fashion label.
26A. The “Sound of a diaphragm spasm” is HIC, as in the sound one makes when one HICcups.
7D. This is another toughie by Monday standards. The “Rose petal fragrance” in question is ATTAR, which is a rose-scented essential oil.
12D. Clues in quotation marks require the solver to identify another conversational phrase that means essentially the same thing. “That doesn’t do much for me” and MEH both mean something is unimpressive.
15D. A question mark means a wordplay clue — the phrase “Apes cats?” sounds like it should be about gorillas and felines, but instead “apes” is used here to mean “mimics,” so one who “apes cats” MEOWS.
23D. Roman numeral clues are another crossword staple and can help a solver out when an entry might be unfamiliar or otherwise hard to clue. The “Woman’s name that looks like Roman numerals for 51 + 51” is LILI, because “LI” is the Roman numeral for 51.
24D. Ah, the quintessential German river clue. This time, the “River of central Germany” is the EDER. Some other German rivers worth remembering for crossword purposes: the Saar, the Elbe, the Oder and the Rhine.
53D. I can’t solve a puzzle containing the “‘Bye Bye Bye’ boy band” ’NSYNC without including a music video. You’re welcome.
This puzzle has a theme type we see fairly frequently in early-week puzzles: one clunkily known as the “[theme] suggested by the starts/ends of [theme entries]” variety. (OK, no one actually calls it that, but I don’t have a snappier name for it!) Puzzles with this kind of theme contain phrases that start or end with words that have something in common, and what they have in common is announced in a revealer. Today, we have four theme entries that all end with words describing a part of the STATUE OF LIBERTY (“New York City landmark suggested by the ends of 17-, 22-, 34- and 50-Across”).
The first entry in this timely and patriotic theme is 17A: PASSING THE TORCH (“Handing responsibility to someone else”). We also have TRIPLE CROWN (22A: “Major accomplishment in baseball or horse racing”); ASPIRIN TABLET (34A: “One way to deal with a pain in the neck”); and TOWN AND GOWN (50A. “Two interacting communities in the home of a college”). This last one may be a bit tricky to solvers who don’t live in college towns — those who do will probably be familiar with the term in the context of town-gown relations (which are often tense).
The words at the ends of all four theme entries make up a pretty comprehensive picture of the STATUE OF LIBERTY, in her CROWN and GOWN, holding a TABLET in her left hand and raising a TORCH in her right. Mr. Haight’s notes describe another theme entry he considered for a more subtle part of the statue — read on for that behind-the-scenes info!
My first try at this puzzle had SUPPLY CHAIN as a theme entry — Lady Liberty is indeed striding over a broken chain, but it is half hidden by her clothing and difficult to see from the ground. The editors nixed that one. I would have rather used robe than gown, but we couldn’t come up with any decent wordplay for robe. I’m thinking a 72-word puzzle with some difficult entries like ARC LIGHT and AT BOTTOM is going to be pretty challenging for a Monday, but we’ll see what solvers say. I like the powder puff clue that the team came up with for LILI, because its proximity to EDER makes that a difficult area.
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The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, which will be closed July 1 to Aug. 1. In the meantime, you can review our submission guidelines here.
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