Matching Wits

New York Times crossword puzzle June 30 / Constructed by Alex Vratsanos and Jeff Chen

It’s hard not to notice the unusual walls of black squares at the top and bottom of today’s puzzle. Their purpose was harder to divine – but only until solving the first theme answer. For me, that came in the form of MUDDY WATERS (“‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ singer,” 4 Down) in the upper left corner. It was then easy to see that the black-square patterns were actually the letters M and W, just like his initials … and just like the first letters of the puzzle’s title, “Matching Wits.”


The rest of the MW theme answers came pretty easily, save for my screw-up on MODERN WARFARE (“West Point subject,” 6 Down). Others: MAKING WHOOPEE (“Euphemism used often on ‘The Newlywed Game’,” 52 Down); MALT WHISKEY (“Dewar’s product,” 68 Down); MIRACLE WORKER (“1962 movie for which Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars, with ‘The’,” 30 Down); MONEY’S WORTH (“Bang for one’s buck,” 17 Down); MINIMUM WAGE (“Money raised by members of Congress?” 58 Down); and MINUTE WALTZ (“Piece longer than its name suggests,” 64 Across).

Twofer Dept.: The twice-used clue “Where one might be in the hot seat?” yields both STEAM BATH (83 Down) and ROAST (98 Down).

Fun Phrases Dept.: COLD AS ICE (“Frigid,” 7 Down); TO THE MAX (“Fully,” 47 Across); IN ECSTASY (“Blissed out,” 78 Down); TWO-FACED (“Duplicitous,” 49 Across); TOTEM POLE (“Heads of a Northwest tribe?” 29 Across); WENT ROGUE (“Disobeyed orders, say,” 103 Across); TRIPLE-X (“Like porn films,” 14 Down); and ESP TEST (“Clairvoyant’s hurdle,” 10 Down), although I can’t for the life of me believe that any psychic has ever taken one. Wouldn’t she already know the answers?

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “They may be shot at basketball games” are TEE SHIRTS (4 Down). If you’re wondering how that’s done, check out last week’s NYT magazine article on the T-shirt cannon. Here’s the Philly connection: The Phanatic uses similar technology to shoot hot dogs into the stands at Phillies games:

Fun Words Dept.: MUKLUK (“Eskimo boot,” 91 Across); TOBOGGAN (“Racing vehicle,” 82 Down); MOUTHIER (“Shooting off more,” 12 Down); ARGONAUT (“Adventurer of Greek myth,” 86 Across); and TOONIE (“Bimetallic Canadian coin,” 100 Down), which refers to a $2 coin. It’s a play on “loonie,” Canada’s $1 coin that features an image of a loon. You can see them both here.

Stumped Me Dept.: I had two empty squares when I finished the puzzle. The first was _ANGRAMS (“Seven-piece puzzles, 84 Across), which I was embarrassed not to know considering my fondness for such games. I guessed (correctly) that it was TANGRAMS, a word that sounded right in the context of puzzles that originated in CHINA (“Where 84-Across were invented,” 76 Across). That gives me CTS for 76 Down (“They’re beside the point: Abbr.”), but I don’t understand the reference. Does anyone else? The other empty square was at 9 Down: HA_S (“The Three Stooges, e.g.”) HAMS seemed a good bet, so I entered it, but that gives me MODES at 24 Across (“Most common elements”), and I really don’t understand that answer. LODES would seem to make more sense _ common elements are often mined, no? – but that would make the Stooges into HALS. What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Matching Wits”

  1. i think “Hal’s” refers to Hal Roach, who produced the 3 Stooges.
    i like the cts explanation; i thought it was “cordless telephone system” which, with cellphones, is “beside the point” (cue laugh track here)

  2. Hi Henri – I like your thinking on the HALS clue! But based on the Facebook posts above, I think HAMS and MODES are the correct answers. As for the “cordless telephone system,” I’ll definitely give you points for creativity. Thanks for reading!

  3. I didn’t understand “CTS” either. The other one that mystified me was “Still dripping?,” answer “BOOZE,” until just now when I read the word “still” as a noun and not an adverb.

  4. Hi Christine … I had to read the BOOZE clue a couple of times as well before I got the wordplay. Thanks for writing!

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