Black Cats

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

It’s not Halloween, but that doesn’t seem to matter to Will Shortz or constructor Jeff Chen. Today’s puzzle, appearing in the dead of winter, has a bunch of black cats slinking through it — nine, to be specific. But they’re practically invisible: These sneaky felines are hiding in the black squares shaped like “plus” signs.

Each branch of the plus sign has three squares, and it’s here that you have to imagine the letters C-A-T are “blacked-out.” The theme entries incorporate those black squares in the middle of the answers, both from left to right and top to bottom. So an “Offense that’s provoked by lurid news” (30 Across) is a COPY(CAT) CRIME, with COPY entered at 30 Across, (CAT) blacked-out from left to right, and CRIME entered in 31 Across (which is clued as “–“).

The other CAT hiding in that plus sign (from top to bottom) makes “The Pied Piper of Hamelin, e.g.” (6 Down) a RAT (CAT)CHER, with RAT entered at 6 Down and CHER entered at 42 Down (again, clued as “–“). The black CAT is in the middle.

Nine black cats (not eight!) are slinking through this grid.
Nine black cats (not eight!) are slinking through this grid.

Others: “Author who wrote about frontier life” (43 Across, continuing to 44 Across) is WILLA (CAT)HER. “Screwball character on ‘The Simpsons'” (14 Down, continuing to 56 Down) is CRAZY (CAT) LADY. “Hero’s spot” (58 Down, continuing to 101 Down) is a DELI(CAT)ESSEN, referring to the place where a hero sandwich might be made.

More: “Base of Asti wine” (88 Across, continuing to 89 Across) is MUS(CAT) GRAPE. “Modern R&R option” (76 Down, continuing to 114 Down) is a STAY(CAT)ION. “Dominatrix’s wear” (102 Across, continuing to 104 Across) is a LATEX (CAT)SUIT. And “Sowed one’s wild oats” (63 Across, continuing to 65 Across) is TOM(CAT)TED (see Whoops! Dept. below).

Even More Meows Dept.: “It may be spotted in a pet store” is a CALICO (1 Down). “Cry like a feline” is WAUL (43 Down), which I never realized was a word by itself. I’d only ever heard “caterwaul.” I guess the “cat” part is redundant.

Bad to the Bone Dept.: “Villain in many a fairy tale” is an EVIL QUEEN (53 Across). “Villain in many an action movie” is a TERRORIST (70 Across).

Not What You Think Dept.: “It may be represented by ‘XXX’ in the funnies” is ALE (110 Down). “One of the X’s in XXX” is TIC (112 Down), as in Tic-Tac-Toe.

For Fun Dept.: “Ink holders” are OCTOPI (27 Down). “Source of talk, often” is an AM STATION (78 Down), as in radio. “One on the verge of croaking?” is a TADPOLE (20 Across). “Middle weights?” are SPARE TIRES (10 Down). And “Old barnstorming needs” are PROP PLANES (72 Down).

Whoops! Dept.: This post has been updated to reflect there are nine black cats in the grid, not eight. I had found the ninth — TOM(CAT)TED — but overlooked it when mentioning the other theme answers because I forgot to highlight it in the photo. Thanks very much to eagle-eyed readers Derrick and Dan for contacting me about this oversight.

A pretty clever puzzle. What did you think?

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. Or visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

All-Inspiring

New York Times crossword Jan. 20 / Constructed by Yaakov Bendavid

Hmmm. “Awe-inspiring” would not be the phrase I’d use to describe this puzzle, even though those words are the source of the theme.

Constructor Yaakov Bendavid tweaks the phrase with an “L” sound to yield the title “All-Inspiring.” The theme answers follow this pattern too, adding an “L” sound to common phrases. So a “Fencing coach’s pronouncement?” is DUEL AS I SAY (11 Down) and “Prince’s pottery equipment?” is THE ROYAL WHEEL (23 Across).

Others: “Haymakers?” are GREEN BALE PACKERS (14 Down). “Strategy employed by a Siberian Hansel and Gretel?” is ICE CUBE TRAIL (3 Down). “Stop proceeding in the maze when you reach the end?” is DO NOT PASS GOAL (104 Across). “‘Waiter, we ordered the fish!’?” is I TOLD YOU SOLE (58 Down). “Advice to Jonah?” is GET OUT OF THE WHALE (36 Down). And “Approach a thruway booth?” is HEAD TO TOLL (67 Down).

Meh. There were some interesting entries in the grid, but the theme answers weren’t among them. Unusual entries included LOT’S WIFE (“Biblical figure punished for hindsight?” 18 Down), EAST L.A. (“Calif. barrio setting,” 90 Down), LITTORAL (“Of the seashore,” 17 Down) and SNAPLESS (“Fastened with Velcro, e.g.,” 19 Down).

Listen Up Dept.: “Chefs hate hearing them” is UGHS (9 Down), while “Teachers love hearing them” is AHAS (98 Across).

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: “Firearm company for nearly five centuries” is BERETTA (25 Across).

Tricky Dept.: “President who was an electrician by profession” (79 Down) refers not to an American leader but to Lech WALESA of Poland. Speaking of presidents, Barack Obama quietly took the oath of office today at the White House. He’ll do it again tomorrow in front of about 800,000 people.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Hails from Rocky Balboa” are YOS (84 Across)! And a “Hooter” is an OWL (34 Across). Hooter the Owl happens to be the mascot for Temple University.

Fermented Curd Dept.: “Soft cheese” is BRIE (39 Across), “Semisoft cheese” is GOUDA (96 Across), and “Hard cheese” is EDAM (80 Across). After all that, you really should watch Monty Python’s classic “Cheese Shop” sketch.

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. Or visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Magic Square

New York Times crossword Jan. 13 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

I greeted today’s puzzle with a mix of curiosity, dread and resignation. The grid, with the isolated box in the middle, reminded me of the crossword contest from a few weeks ago that stumped me. Normally that would get my competitive juices flowing, but I’m sick — isn’t everyone? — so I really didn’t want to have to use a whole lot of brain cells.

This magic square required some basic math.
This magic square required some basic math.

Turns out this creative puzzle from Elizabeth C. Gorski was just challenging enough to be fun and entertaining without being completely mentally draining. The key for me was using crossing words to solve 36 Across, “Like magic squares”: MATHEMATICAL. That helped me figure out (also using crossing words) the three clues that filled in the grid’s central “Magic Square.” For 23 Across, “Middle row,” you get THREE FIVE SEVEN; “Top row” is EIGHT ONE SIX (17 Down); and “Bottom row” is FOUR NINE TWO (64 Down).

Once you fill those numbers into the square, you might notice that they ADD UP TO FIFTEEN (“… what each line in the center square should do,” 114 Across). And that’s the case in every direction — HORIZONTALLY (93 Across), DIAGONALLY (48 Down) and VERTICALLY (34 Down) — thus making it “magic.” OK, not really. But it’s kind of neat.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Newspapers” are GAZETTES (85 Down). They’re actually much more than that — I’d argue newspapers are the backbone of many communities — and I mention this because last week the owners of Philly’s two papers threatened to liquidate the company if the largest union doesn’t offer concessions. Tough times for journalism.

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: Although I’ve seen this fashion statement many times, I didn’t know that “Knee-length hip-hop shirts” are called TALL TEES (73 Across). Also never heard of OOLITE (“Limestone variety,” 22 Across) or a Y LEVEL (“Rotating surveying tool,” 86 Across).

Lights Out Dept.: I need a nap. Stay healthy.

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

Puzzle Envy

New York Times crossword Jan. 6 / Constructed by Dan Feyer and Andrea Carla Michaels

Greetings from Las Vegas! After I finish this post, I’m going to steal Mike Tyson’s tiger. Just kidding. That’s a reference to “The Hangover,” the Vegas-based film that coincidentally is featured in 101 Down: “Like ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘The Hangover'” — R-RATED.

We usually spend this week of the year in more tropical climes, as an anniversary present to ourselves. The past two years we’ve gone to Aruba, an island with many an IGUANA (“Greenish creature,” 54 Down). But this year we’re in Vegas — not far from UTAH (“Land of Zion?” 71 Across) — at a conference where people are trying to learn how to TURN PRO (“Start to make a living from something,” 20 Across) at blogging and other new media ventures. Somehow, I’m skeptical. And yet I keep posting, because it’s so much fun.

Today’s puzzle was pretty simple once you realized the title was an aural clue. Each theme answer is a two-word entry starting with the letters N and V (“en-vy” — get it?). I solved the first one easily at 23 Across — NIGHT VISION (“What some goggles provide”) — after getting the crossing V with SUVS (“Yukon and Tahoe, for short,” 5 Down). Then it was off to the races with NIA VARDALOS (“‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ writer and star,” 118 Across), who usually only gets her first name in the grid, and NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (“Home of the world’s largest naval base,” 99 Across), which I knew as a military outpost but had no idea it was the biggest.

Others: NUMERICAL VALUE (“3.14159…, for pi,” 16 Down), NOW, VOYAGER (“1942 Bette Davis film,” 74 Across), NATIONAL VELVET (“Hit 1944 film starring a 12-year-old actress,” 47 Down), NORTH VIETNAMESE (“Onetime enemy,” 36 Across), NAPA VALLEY (“Wine taster’s destination,” 65 Across) and NO VACANCY (“Bad sign for a traveler?” 70 Across).

Rosebud Dept.: Did this puzzle just ruin the new 007 movie for me? I had no idea that SKYFALL referred to “James Bond’s childhood home” (95 Down).

So That’s What It’s Called Dept.: The “Paragraph symbol” (53 Down), which I can’t replicate here but is printed in the clue, is apparently called a PILCROW (53 Down).

You’ve Got Mail Dept.: “NetZero competitor” is AOL (111 Across). Some of you may have seen this interesting post about how NYT crossword clues for the news portal/e-mail site have changed over the years.

Cheap Shots Dept.: The three-letter answer to “’60s prez” (45 Down) refers not to JFK, or LBJ, but to 1860s president ABE Lincoln. Ugh. And I hate the word KALE (“Moolah,” 14 Down) as a synonym for money. Seriously, have you ever heard someone use it that way? What’s wrong with calling it a leafy green?

Athletics Dept.: Today’s grid features a couple of common puzzle names — ODOM (“Kardashian spouse Lamar ___,” 87 Down) and SNEAD (“Slammin’ Sammy,” 125 Across) — and a couple not-so-common ones: PLAXICO (“The N.F.L.’s ___ Burress,” 94 Down) and KINER (“Ralph in the Baseball Hall of Fame,” 32 Down.

Best Wishes Dept.: It was announced this week that “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas got engaged. So perhaps it’s appropriate that this puzzle features A NEW HOPE (“Subtitle of ‘Star Wars Episode IV’,” 43 Down). That’s the original movie, by the way, even though it’s Episode IV.

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