I Surrender!

New York Times crossword Feb. 24 / Constructed by Joe DiPietro

About 30 minutes into this difficult puzzle — still struggling mightily to figure out the theme as well as some regular entries — I was ready to throw up my hands and cry “No mas!” That’s what Roberto DURAN (“Boxer nicknamed ‘Hands of Stone,'” 123 Across) famously said during his bout with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980.

But rather than surrendering, as the puzzle’s title would have me do, I continued to LINGER OVER (“Keep at awhile,” 74 Down) the grid. And it paid off when I finally figured out how to translate the thematic “Back down” clues: You have to enter them in reverse (“back”), and then at a right angle (“down”).


For 22 Across, the answer is BEAT A HASTY RETREAT. But you have to enter it backwards, beginning with the last square (below 11 Down), and then turn down when you run out of room. So 22 Across looks like RTER YTSAH A TAEB, with the last part of RETREAT coming from 1 Down’s FIRE AT (“Try to shoot”).

A shorter theme answer — CAPITULATE — can be found at 24 Across. It’s entered backward as UTIPAC, with the LATE coming from 12 Down’s ULULATE (“Loudly lament”).

Other answers to the “Back down” clues are HEAD FOR THE HILLS (43 Across), PULL OUT (53 Across), LOSE ONE’S NERVE (65 Across), WITHDRAW (82 Across), GIVE SOME GROUND (90 Across), CRY UNCLE (112 Across) and WAVE THE WHITE FLAG (115 Across).

When I first saw the title, I thought maybe the theme answers would be common phrases with the letter “I” dropped, or “surrendered.” Nope. Then I tried to see if “flag” or “uncle” or “towel” might be squeezed into a single box. Nope. I finally figured it out after solving the bottom right corner of the puzzle, where the crossing answers gave me EHT EVAW as part of the “Back down” answer for 115 Across. I immediately saw the reverse of WAVE THE and puzzled it out from there, eventually noticing how it incorporated LAG at 115 Down (“Not keep up”).

This was a really challenging puzzle. You can see from my grid that I had a lot of false starts, even with some of the regular entries. It occurred to me that Will Shortz and clever constructor Joe DiPietro could have switched the title and theme clues, calling the puzzle “Back Down” and using “Surrender” for the repeated clues.

Doubled-Up Dept.: “Lays to rest” is INTERS (2 Down) while “Lay to rest” is ENTOMB (“66 Down”).

For Fun Dept.: Some long answers that weren’t part of the theme include FUEL SPILLS (“Slick ones?” 3 Down), CAT-EYED (“Capable of seeing in the dark,” 8 Down), ORAL EXAM (“Certain grilling,” 9 Down), SENIOR BOWL (“Postseason football game played in Mobile, Ala.” 67 Down) and MASTER PLAN (“What’s the big idea?” 20 Down).

Say What? Dept.: “Apologues,” which I’ve never heard of, is apparently a fancy word for FABLES (45 Down).

Hometown Shout-Out Dept.: Regular readers know I try to find a Philly-related clue in each puzzle to give props to my adopted hometown. Couldn’t find one in today’s grid, so I’ll give a nod to Los Angeles — my actual hometown — where you can find saber-tooth cats and other Ice Age creatures at the La BREA Tar Pits (97 Across). Seriously.

Whoops! Dept.: Eagle-eyed readers Mary and George point out that in my solved grid, 77 Across should be PALTERS, not PATTERS (“Talks without sincerity”), making “Author Canetti” ELIAS (70 Down). Thanks for spotting the error!

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

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10 thoughts on “I Surrender!”

  1. Kathy, you and I experienced very similar solving problems the last two weeks. As a fellow Philadelphian, I don’t wish to nitpick with you, but your completed grid for the “I Surrender!” puzzle contains a mistake. “Talks without sincerity” [77-across] should be PALTERS, not “PATTERS,” while Author Canetti [70-down] should definitely be ELIAS … From Google: “Elias Canetti (Bulgarian: Елиас Канети; 25 July 1905 – 14 August 1994) was a Bulgarian modernist novelist, playwright, memoirist, and non-fiction writer.”

  2. @George – Thanks for pointing out the error. My post has been updated to reflect the change. I’ve never heard of ELIAS Canetti, nor the term PALTERS. “Patter,” of course, is “meaningless chatter,” which I thought was close enough to “talks without sincerity.”

  3. Honestly, this (Feb 24- I Surrender!) was one of the most poorly written crossword puzzles I have seen in a while.

    While for many years, the NYT Sunday puzzle was witty and well written, I have noticed that in the past 5 – 6 months, they have either become too simple or ridiculous in nature (how about the Black Cat theme from a couple of months ago…?)

  4. @Joshua – A lot of people agree with you on “Black Cats.” I got more page views and comments on that post than on any other in recent memory. (The puzzle contest “Bypassing Security” also used a black square a few months ago.) Seems like it’s tough for Will Shortz to strike a balance between the needs of novice, good and expert solvers. Thanks for reading!

  5. Kathy- Thanks for the reply. Of course, this weekend’s puzzle was a breeze. Let’s see what next week brings, Good luck.

  6. Kathy-

    First time reading your blog. I stumbled upon it while looking to see if there was a crossword community on the web and to find out if there were others who were ticked off about the I Surrender puzzle. Well, here you are and it seems like quite a nice community and I quite like your blog – seems i may finally have to figure out how to follow a blog!

    Anyway, it seems there is a whole level of puzzling going on that was never aware of! I can really appreciate your comment about Will Shortz’s challenge to amuse the general audience while balancing the needs of advanced puzzlers. So I’ll trade in my righteous indignation for some respect for the Serious Puzzler comunity. Also, I suppose WS should be commended for bucking the trend of dumbing- down that we see in society.

    So, perhaps by dropping in here from time to time, I can make some headway on the NYT (I rarely get past half done). If I want a slam-dunk, there’s always the TV guide! 🙂


  7. @DaveO – Your kind words are appreciated more than you know. Glad to help solvers of any level … and I humbly accept corrections and clarifications as well. Thanks for reading!

  8. Black Cat had my wife and I stumped completely, yet after ten hours off and on with this one, I am happy to say we finished I Surrender.

  9. This comment is attached to a rather old puzzle from February. I noticed you printed a photo of your work. I’m proud of your using all CAPS! I kinda lose patience when I see puzzles done in a combo of caps and lower case. Yick.
    And, I’m sure this isn’t new to you: I wouldn’t be without PaperMate’s Erasermate pens in either blue or black ink. To use ink and then, to be able to erase mistakes, well, it’s just the best of both worlds! Yipee! Abby

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