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.

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15 thoughts on “Black Cats”

  1. You are brilliant. I am getting back into crossword puzzles. this week was very confusing for me. So, of course, I had to check out your site. Thanks!

  2. @karen -This week was very tricky. I’ve been suspicious of black squares ever since being stumped by the crossword contest a few months ago (“Bypassing Security”). Thanks for reading!

  3. WOW! We never would have realized about the black squares. Thanks!

    Don’t understand why “Monterray cheddar?” is peso. Slang somewhere? Where?

  4. @Sandra – I didn’t like the “Monterrey cheddar” clue either — way too esoteric. The word “cheese” in English is slang for money; not really sure why, though some sources say it stems from the cheese the government used to hand out in welfare lines. (Now the cheese is cash.)

    Other sources say it’s used in hip-hop lyrics. At any rate, Monterrey is in Mexico, so “Monterrey cheddar” is PESO. Meh. Will Shortz also tends to use KALE as slang for money, which I have never heard used by anyone, anywhere, ever.

    Hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

  5. Greetings from Canada (and do you have enough snow or what?? It’s sunny and 30º here.)
    Congrats on your solution where the rest of us .. er…failed.
    Usuallymanage to solve the NYT Mag Xword in an afternoon, but this one stopped me, as I didn’t know how Black Cats fit. Had Rat and Cher but didn’t put them together.

  6. @Bev — Snow? Ha! The storm actually completely missed Philly. It is sunny but cold here, too. Glad to help with “Black Cats.” It definitely was a tough one. Thanks for reading!

  7. This puzzle was a waste of my entire Sunday morning. Crossword puzzles have black squares for a reason, and putting letters in them is not it.

  8. @Harlan – I know a lot of people who agree with you; sorry it was so frustrating. Thanks for reading.

  9. i just discovered your awesome website today. i started doing the ny times crossword in the late 80’s when a room mate told me it wasn’t impossible like i had thought. the black cats puzzle was the first one since then that i could not figure out the main clue. even after seeing your solution, i did not think, oh yeah, i shoulda known that. this was the toughest puzzle in almost 30 years. way to work Kathy, you are much smarter than me. i don’t say that often.

  10. @hannityisherbtarlek – Thanks for reading! I always tell people about the sliding scale of difficulty with the NYT puzzle: They get progressively harder from Monday to Saturday, while Sunday is really just a big Thursday. I’d be lucky to finish a Friday or Saturday grid — they are super-hard because they are themeless. Nice WKRP reference, by the way!

  11. Wow! So glad I checked the web for some enlightenment. I always check the title of the puzzle to get some insight. . . but even after finishing the puzzle, I couldn’t find those darn cats! I did note the unusual black plus signs in the beginning. . . Thanks for helping a lot of us see more in the dark!

  12. @Vicki – Glad to help! This puzzle definitely got people talking, even weeks after it first appeared. Thanks for reading!

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