A Cut Above The Rest

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 15 / Constructed by Jeff Chen

Wow. This smart puzzle was indeed a cut above the rest.

Creative constructor Jeff Chen, who gave us a cruciverbalist depiction of Sisyphus not long ago, has engineered another imaginative visual theme that includes terrific aural wordplay.

I realized something sneaky was up while working the upper right corner. I figured the answer for “Razz” at 14 Across had to be either TAUNT or TEASE, since the first letter crossed with TLC at 14 Down (“Girl group with four #1 hits in the 1990s”).

But as I filled in more boxes, things got a little curious. Pretty soon, I had T_ _ TT for “Razz,” and _ TT_ T for “Aids for long drives” at 16 Down – and that couldn’t be a coincidence. Eventually, I realized both answers consisted of all T’s. Not only that, but those entries formed the T in the word CUT, which Chen spells out at the top of the grid (“above the rest,” as the title says).

Wait, what?

Take the clue “Oceans” at 1 Across. The answer, “seas,” isn’t written as such but instead is entered as the homonym CCCCC – a series of letters which, said aloud, sounds like “seas.” The same goes for “Grab” at 1 Down: The answer, “seize,” is also represented as its aural equivalent – CCCCC. And for “Espies,” at 31 Across, the CCCCC answer symbolizes “sees.” As if all this wasn’t enough, the three answers interlock to form a giant “C” in the grid.

This puzzle truly was a cut above. (Click to enlarge.)
This puzzle truly was a cut above. (Click to enlarge.)

Chen repeats this for the letters “U” and “T.” “Farm females” are “ewes,” entered as UUUUU at 8 Down; “Profit from” is “use,” entered as UUUUU at 33 Across; and “Trees with poisonous seeds” are “yews,” entered as UUUUU at 11 Down. For the “T,” he uses the clue “Razz” for “tease” (TTTTT) at 14 Across and the clue “Aids for long drives” for “tees” (TTTTT) at 16 Down.

And there’s more! The theme’s second part is composed of phrases that are synonymous with the word “cut”; each is clued by the cryptic “[See above]”. From left to right, they are PLAYED HOOKY (71 Down), PIECE OF THE ACTION (36 Down), ALBUM TRACK (80 Down), EDITED DOWN (81 Down), KICKED OFF THE TEAM (42 Down) and SNIDE REMARK (75 Down).

Pretty ingenious in my book. What did you think?

Tripped Up Dept.: I really screwed up the lower left corner at first. I tried to enter TOKENS for “Subway fare” at 107 Across, which led me to enter NIKE for 95 Down (“Her name is Norwegian for ‘beautiful woman who leads you to victory'”). I know Nike is the Greek goddess of victory (thus the name of the shoe company), so I figured it was the same in Norwegian. Sigh. Eventually I realized that “Subway” referred to the fast-food chain, so TOKENS became HEROES (for the sandwiches, which we call hoagies in Philly) and NIKE became the iPhone goddess SIRI. I also entered CHIRP for “Cricket’s sound” at 103 Across, which I had to change to CHIRR in order to get the aforementioned SNIDE REMARK.

Twofer Dept.: There were several doubled clues in the grid. “Twosome” is a DUO (116 Down), while “Twosomes” are DYADS (77 Down). “Canon offering” is a digital camera called an EOS (46 Across), while “Canon offering, briefly” is SLR (118 Down), for single-lens reflex camera. And a “Last name in ‘Star Wars'” is SOLO (8 Down), while a “First name in ‘Star Wars'” is LUKE (13 Down), which I initially entered as LEIA.

Monikers Dept.: Several unusual names appeared in the puzzle, including AMOS (“Last name in cookies,” 114 Across), ZEKE (“Farmworker in ‘The Wizard of Oz’,” 120 Across), O. HENRY (“Annual literary prize,” 82 Across), JUNO (“2007 title role for Ellen Page,” 40 Down) and TWYLA (“Tony winner Tharp,” 122 Across).

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. And here’s a little more about me.