FRIDAY PUZZLE — When first starting out in crossword puzzles, there is often a feeling of trepidation when presented with a blank grid.
That makes sense when you think about it. A jigsaw puzzle is perfect before you start scribbling letters. There’s the flawless grid in stark black and white with sharp lines and perfectly aligned squares. The hints were written and edited by professionals who surely know more than you do. The same clues are double-checked by other experts, who certainly aren’t madly cackling about how quickly this will bring down the solvers.
It also has that “new puzzle” smell – that heady scent of possibility and soy-based ink – that’s noticeable even if you solve it in the app. Go ahead, raise your phone to your face and take a deep drag. When you’re outside, explain to the people around you that all you smell is the daily crossword. I vouch for you.
I mention this to reassure people who dare to try the more difficult puzzles that no matter how long you’ve been solving it, there will always be one that you struggle with. On the surface, that doesn’t really sound reassuring. But it can help to remember that while you’re struggling to solve a Tuesday puzzle, someone else – someone with more experience – did their best to master a Friday edition. You are not alone in your trepidation.
In fact, I found Kyle Dolan’s riveting riddle difficult, and I solved it for a long time. Some solvers call this “not being on the designer’s wavelength”, but in my case it’s just a matter of not being warmed up.
I hope that’s a good analogy, but that’s how I imagine being on bat at a baseball game. When I’m not warmed up and feeling sharp, the balls – the crosswords – the pitcher throws at me whizzing past my head and I feel discouraged. When I read the clues a second time, I take a few hits in hopes that I’ll connect with something. At this point I’m starting to see some of the clues, and maybe I can write an answer or two in there. Now I’m warmed up and I’m starting to type more answers, but it’s not all happening at once. In my opinion, working on the crossroads and carefully re-reading the clues are the best ways to stay warmed up.
What are your favorite methods of breaking into a puzzle like this? And what do you do when you’re stuck?
18A Even if you’re not sure who her great-grandfather (8D) was, if you see any reference to playing the lyre in the clue, the answer is ERATO, one of the nine muses in Greek mythology.
Can’t tell Eos from Erato? Here’s some help:
24A That’s what I mean by not being warmed up. I misinterpreted “drugstore brand named by destination” and slapped myself on the forehead when I finally got the answer. At first I thought the reference would speak of a brick-and-mortar drugstore (brand or maybe chain) and its geographic location (“target area”). The answer is TUMS, which of course targets the stomach. Moral: If in doubt, read the hint again. Again. OK, one last time. Perfect.
33A. Very clever tip and I was aware of this one. I really did. I just couldn’t think of an answer because – tell me – I wasn’t quite warmed up. “Offering with blessings?” sounds as if it suggests some kind of religious offering, but that question mark indicates that puns are afoot. What other blessings are there? How about the “bless you” we say when someone sneezes? I knew the offering had to be some kind of cloth to lend to the sneezer. It turns out the answer is KLEENEX.
38A/45D. Here’s another solution lesson: When the clues ask about Presidents or First Ladies, don’t assume they are leaders of the United States. This information was intentionally omitted to make the hint trickier. The first lady in this two-part clue is EVA Perón, née DUARTE, who appeared on Broadway as Patti LuPone.
4D Clues like “representative” are tricky because there’s no information telling us whether the word is a noun or an adjective. There is an adjective here, and the answer is TOTEMIC.
7D A QUBIT is a portmanteau of the words “quantum” and “bit”. Based on information from Wordplay’s research department, a quantum bit is just like a classical bit, except it’s more…quantum.
Ha! Just kidding. The people with the pointy sticks want me to explain, according to the website Quantum Inspire: “In classical computing, information is encoded in bits, where each bit can have a value of zero or one. In quantum computing, information is encoded in qubits.” As far as I can tell, QUBITs are also represented as zeros and ones, but with fancier punctuation.
9D This “book agent?” isn’t someone who promises you fame, honor, and fortune beyond your wildest dreams for 15 percent of the money you’re not yet making. It is someone who makes books or takes bets on sporting events. The answer is ODDS MAKER.
23D. The word “inclined” in the “Where to ride if you’re so inclined?” notice should set off alarm bells. It’s not about doing things when you want them to. It’s about riding on something, and that would be a RAMP.
50D I’ve owned dogs all my life and spent a lot of time as a canine behaviorist, but I had never heard of a BITON. The BITON is a hybrid designer dog that is a cross between a Bichon Frize and a Coton de Tulear. I found it interesting that the entry hadn’t appeared in The New York Times Crossword before Will Shortz became Crossword Editor in 1993, and it turns out this is a debut for the dog breed entry. It used to be known as the awkward phrase BIT ON. I can understand why the editors have chosen a new path.
After a period of constructing themed lots with black squares laid out before the fill (including April’s unthemed SPREZZATURA), I changed my approach, starting with STATUS QUO at 1A and letting the grid design emerge organically, as indicated by the fill was predetermined. This required a lot of manual filling out without the use of computer aids.
The Northeast and Southwest quad stacks were random, and I’m particularly pleased with how they turned out.
I would like to thank Sam Ezersky, whose notes from his January 15, 2021 puzzle provided some inspiration, and for his helpful discussions of off-topic engineering philosophy. I hope you find the puzzle a fun way to start your solving weekend!
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