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.
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?