New York Times crossword Nov. 27 / Constructed by Jeff Chen

If you didn’t figure out today’s theme from either the puzzle title (“Yin/Yang”) or the beautifully designed grid, you need to spend more time doing NYT crosswords.

The theme of opposites was elegantly executed: Answers in opposite grid locations also contained antonyms — and were shaded appropriately. So ROUGH NIGHT? (“Question asked to one with a hangover,” 45 Down) in the dark part of the grid is paired with DAYDREAMER (“Walter Mitty, e.g.,” 37 Down) in the light part.

Others: AFRAID OF THE DARK (“Suffering from nyctophobia,” 16 Down), paired with LIGHT AS A FEATHER (“Weighing hardly anything,” 42 Down); HOT AND HEAVY (“Full of strong feelings,” 24 Across), with CAUGHT A COLD (“Started sneezing and sniffling, say,” 116 Across); HONEYMOON (“Time in Hawaii, maybe,” 43 Down), with SUN YAT SEN (“Kuomintang co-founder,” 48 Down); and SUMMER BREEZE (“Something to enjoy on a beach,” 31 Across), with OLD MAN WINTER (“He might put chills up your spine,” 102 Across).

I found it interesting that the two answers in the center of the grid — RHYTHM (“Musician’s asset,” 69 Across) and SENATE (“Where the vice president presides,” 72 Across) — were not part of the theme. Unless there’s a not-so-subtle political joke I’m missing?

The Dog Ate My Homework Dept.: I’m a day late with this post because I worked all day Sunday to monitor Occupy Philadelphia, where participants staged a sit-in EN MASSE (“All together,” 80 Across) to protest the mayor’s eviction deadline. Demonstrators were supposed to clear off City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza by 5 p.m. Sunday. They didn’t, but nothing happened. (As of this writing, we’re still waiting to see what the city is going to do. Follow my alter ego at @kmatheson if you’re interested.)

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Crossword Preoccupation

So sorry, but I won’t be able to post today due to the demands of my day job (read: the impending eviction of Occupy Philadelphia). Follow me on Twitter @kmatheson for more.

Hope to post on Yin/Yang tomorrow. Looks like a very cool puzzle!

Figure It Out

New York Times crossword Nov. 20 / Constructed by Trip Payne

I’m not sure how I feel about today’s puzzle, and not because it incorporates numbers into the theme answers (a trick hinted at by the title “Figure It Out”). I’m all for numbers and symbols in puzzle squares, but these numbers shared space with letters from crossing answers, and were used to solve a second, semi-bizarre puzzle-within-a-puzzle. An interesting concept, but I thought it kind of fell flat.

The easiest way to explain is to start with the answers that require numbers. In order, they are VITAMIN B1 (“Thiamine,” 79 Down); TABLE FOR 2 (“Dinner date request,” 2 Down); 3D GRAPHICS (“Computer animation option,” 23 Across); 4-MINUTE MILE (“It was first broken in 1954,” 39 Down); BABYLON 5 (“Sci-fi series set in the 23rd century,” 35 Down); V6 ENGINE (“One step up from a four cylinder,” 58 Down); CHERRY 7UP (“Fruit-flavored soft drink,” 14 Down); MAGIC 8 BALL (“‘My sources say no’ source,” 108 Across); and DISTRICT 9 (“Oscar nominated sci-fi film of 2009,” 74 Down).

Each of those numbers has a letter attached to it — they share space in squares designated with a “/”. (This is all explained in an editor’s note at the top of the page.) You figure out what to do with those letters by solving 63 Across — PUT NINE LETTERS IN ORDER (“How to get this puzzle’s final word”).

So I went to the “1” in VITAMIN B1 and saw it shared a square with “N” (“‘__ questions?’ 119 Across: ANY). I wrote down N. I went to the “2” in TABLE FOR 2 and saw it shared its square with “W” (“Ill-gotten gains,” 52 Across, SWAG; although I would argue the free stuff given out at publicity stunts counts as swag, and is hardly ill-gotten.)

Anyway, by continuing in that manner you eventually get NWODTNUOC — COUNTDOWN spelled backward. (It’s spelled forward if you start with 9 and — ahem — count down.) The editor’s note calls it “an appropriate final word,” but I dunno; it didn’t feel fully integrated into the puzzle concept. And don’t countdowns start at 10?

Coulda Been A Philly Shout-Out Dept.:  BARNES (“The ‘B’ of B&N,” 28 Across) is the billion-dollar art collection moving to Philadelphia from suburban Lower Merion after many years of legal battles.

Teed Off Dept: I triple-checked my Down answers to make sure the answer to 33 Across was really IRING (“Teeing off”). I didn’t understand what that meant and looked it up, to no avail. Apparently Rex Parker believes it’s a verb form of “ire,” and is just as incredulous as I am that it passed muster as a word.

Inside Baseball Dept.: “Article’s start, to a journalist” is a LEDE (19 Across). Film critic Roger EBERT (“‘Awake in the Dark’ author,” 44 Across) surely has written a few thousand of those.

Less Is More Dept.: LES (“CBS’s Moonves,” 110 Across) crossed with LESS (“-“, 118 Across).

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Either Way

New York Times crossword Nov. 13 / Constructed by Jeremy Newton and Tony Orbach

A Facebook meme came through my news feed the other day — something about National Palindrome Day — but I didn’t bother to click on it. If I had, maybe I would have figured out the theme of today’s puzzle a little faster.

As it was, the title “Either Way” was a big hint: The theme answers in today’s puzzle read the same backward and forward. Kudos to constructors Jeremy Newton and Tony Orbach, whose palindromes displayed a cleverness and wit that truly awed me, starting with the first one I solved: WARSAW WAS RAW (“Recollection from a winter tourist in Poland?” 68 Down).

Others: PUPILS SLIP UP (“Students err?” 22 Across); PERSEUS SUES REP (“Medusa killer takes his agent to court?” 31 Across); BUTTRESSED DESSERT TUB (“Reinforced ice cream container?” 46 Across); SUB-PAR RAP BUS (“Inferior tour vehicle for Snoop Dogg?” 58 Across); DEROGATIVE EVITA GORED (“Disparaging Argentine leader badly injured?” 79 Across); and GIGOLO’S SOLO GIG (“One-on-one job for a ladies’ man?” 97 Across).

And then there was this gem: “‘Son of Darius, please confirm my dog is male’?” — XERXES, SEX REX (110 Across). Had my husband not stopped the remote on the umpteenth basic cable showing of “300” the other night, I might not have remembered Xerxes was the son of Darius. (It’s actually a very fun and beautifully shot film that two close friends worked on.)

So after solving the grid, I went back and looked up National Palindrome Day. Turns out it’s tied to the recent reversible date of Nov. 2, 2011 (11/02/2011). [And it so happens there was another one not long ago: Jan. 02, 2010 (01/02/2010).] I have a hard time believing Will Shortz wasn’t aware of the proximity of National Palindrome Day when running this puzzle, but there was no reference to it in the clues, so maybe it was coincidence. Although I guess last Sunday would have been more timely.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: I always thought Temple University had a really cool, unusual mascot that reflected its roots as a night school. Now I know something even cooler about OWLS:  “Their necks can turn 270 degrees” (86 Down). But I would call an exorcist if I ever saw a Temple student capable of that.

Oops Dept.: “Ones who gets things” (emphasis mine, 13 Down) should have read “One who gets things” to yield the answer PROCURER.

Oh, Really? Dept.: This probably isn’t an error, but I’ve never thought of TSP as an “Rx qty.” (10 Down). A baker’s qty., yes, but a pharmacist’s? And while I know the shorthand for suburbs is ‘burbs, I have never heard anyone use URBS (“Cities, informally,” 49 Down). Another bizarre word: UGSOME (“Repulsive,” 90 Down), which seems to be a combination of “ugly” and “loathsome” used in Scotland and northern England. But I’ve never heard it here.

OMG Dept.: “Start of an aside, to tweeters” is BTW (60 Down), for “by the way.” And if you turn the page of the NYT Magazine after solving the puzzle, you’ll find a cautionary Twitter tale.

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Baker’s Dozen

New York Times crossword Nov. 6 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

You don’t need a sweet tooth to solve this puzzle, but it sure might help. The grid is filled with enough desserts to make Buddy Valastro jealous.

Read up, not down.

The theme of today’s clever yet caloric crossword is types of cake. The catch is that you have to look up to find them: The answers all read from bottom to top. Figuring out that trick comes from solving 47 Down, “Pastry chef creations … and a hint to 12 other answers in this puzzle”: UPSIDE-DOWN CAKES. And 13 theme answers, of course, makes a baker’s dozen — just like the title says.

So while “Not having quite enough money” (1 Down) is SHORT, it’s entered as TROHS. The same goes for “The ‘mode’ of ‘a la mode’?” (12 Down), which is ICE CREAM, entered as MAERCECI.

Others: “Schokolade” is ETALOCOHCNAMREG (GERMAN CHOCOLATE, 3 Down); “Manna, according to the Bible” is DOOFLEGNA (ANGEL FOOD, 5 Down); “Canine shelter” is DNUOP (POUND, 15 Down); “Wooded area near the Rhine Valley” is TSEROFKCALB (BLACK FOREST, 40 Down); and “Squishy dish cleaner” is EGNOPS (SPONGE, 50 Down).

More: “Word before republic or seat” is ANANAB (BANANA, 61 Down); “Girl’s holiday party dress fabric” is TEVLEVDER (RED VELVET, 84 Down); “Cause for bringing out candles” is YADHTRIB (BIRTHDAY, 87 Down); “Coat of paint” is REYAL (LAYER, 103 Down); and a “Bed cover” is a TEEHS (SHEET, 110 Down).

Keystone State Shout-Out Dept.: “Peak leaf-peeping time in Pennsylvania” is MID-OCTOBER (97 Across). And sticking with the bakery theme, central Pennsylvania is home to “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” where you can see “How Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped” — IN FOIL (18 Down). On a sad note, the 41 Down clue “One of the Alis” — LAILA, daughter of boxer Muhammad — reminded me of yesterday’s stunning news here in Philly: Native son and ex-Ali nemesis Joe Frazier is gravely ill with liver cancer.

Say What? Dept.: “Math coordinates” are ABSCISSAE (13 Down). I thought for a minute that entry was part of the upside down theme, but no, it’s just terribly obscure. And while I’ve heard of going incognito, I’ve never heard the abbreviated version INCOG (“Wearing a wig and shades, say,” 55 Across).

Polar Opposites Dept.: The “Focus of Gandhi’s philosophy” is NON-VIOLENCE (24 Across), which is paired in its corresponding space below with RIOT SHIELDS (“Police protection,” 117 Across).

Where in the World? Dept.: “Area known to the Chinese as Dongbei” is MANCHURIA (42 Down). “Russia’s ___ Bay, arm of the White Sea” is ONEGA (104 Down). “___ Beach, Hawaii” is EWA (63 Down).

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.