Take A Break

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 29 / Constructed by Joel Fagliano

After working my day job and then rushing home to solve the puzzle and blog, it sure would be nice to “Take A Break.” How about a game of pool?

That’s the clever theme of today’s rectangle grid. The odd shape and triangular cluster of circles toward the bottom made it clear that this was more than just a crossword – it was a visual representation of a little R&R.

I first thought about pinball. Could the triangle in the middle symbolize some kind of bumper? Maybe there were hidden flippers on the side? And for a fleeting second I considered a hopscotch court after solving SIDEWALK CHALK (“Bit of hopscotch equipment,” 35 Across). But I knew no one over 10 would take a break by hopping around on one foot.

Then I started working in the bottom left corner, where I ended up with _ ACES for “Best hand in Texas hold ’em” at 123 Across. I’m no card SHARK (“Dangerous person to play against for money,” 99 Across), but I knew that the blank square had to be a number or symbol. The crossing letters and clue at 106 Down (“Microwaveable snack item“) did it for me: HOT _ . The symbol had to be a POCKET – so the grid was definitely a pool table.

Care for a game of pool? (Click to enlarge.)
Care for a game of pool? (Click to enlarge.)

That also made it easy to figure out where the other “pockets” would be. Clockwise from the top left, they are:

_ (POCKET) BOOK (“One at a woman’s side?” 1 Across) and (POCKET) VETO (“Presidential power first used by James Madison,” 1 Down).

_ (POCKET) SIZE (“Miniature,” 15 Down) and PICK (POCKET) (“Person who might bump into you on a subway,” 11 Across).

_ (POCKET) CHANGE (“Silver, say,” 71 Down) and OUT OF (POCKET) (“Like some expenses, 68 Across).

_ AIR (POCKET) (“Cause of a sudden drop in altitude,” 114 Down) and DEEP (POCKET) (“Having a ton of money to draw one,” 125 Across).

_ The aforementioned HOT (POCKET) and (POCKET) ACES, followed by …

_ (POCKET) PASSER (“Well-protected, non running quarterback,” 62 Down) and (POCKET) WATCH (“Item on a chain,” 62 Across).

The long across answers all contain words that are either pool table equipment or accessories: VERBAL CUE (“Spoken instruction in animal training,” 23 Across), DRESS RACK (“It’s often divided into sections 0, 2, 4, 6, etc.,” 77 Across), HEARTFELT (“Sincere,” 107 Across), WALT WHITMAN BRIDGE (“Philadelphia/New Jersey connector,” 51 Across) and SIDEWALK CHALK. (Thanks to reader Curtiss for pointing this out in the comments below!) But that leaves an important question: Where are the sticks?

The piece de resistance is the mass of POOL BALLS, which are formed by the circled letters in the triangle. The letters come from PIGPENS (“Symbols of dirtiness,” 87 Across), STOOLIE (“Rat,” 91 Across) and BALLS (“Big dos,” 95 Across).

Nicely done. Rack ’em! I’ll break. (Get it? Take a “break”?)

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Talk about props for the hometown! WALT WHITMAN BRIDGE is the longest answer in the puzzle. Is it a coincidence that constructor Joel Fagliano went to high school here? Perhaps not! Also in this category is SUDOKU (85 Down), which was the “Subject of a 2009 national tournament cheating scandal.” Yeah, that happened here, too.

Fun Phrases Dept.: There were lots of unusual entries, including ILLUMINATI (“Secret society in Dan Brown’s ‘Angels & Demons’,” 30 Down) and SCIENTISTS (“Half of the Nobel Prize winners, typically,” 28 Down).

Cats Dept.: T.S. ELIOT is the man who said “the most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible” (29 Across).

Haha Dept.: “Jazz quintet’s home” is UTAH, for the five-man basketball team (25 Down). And “You’ll trip if you drop it” is ACID (59 Down).

Say What? Dept.: “‘Come again?'” is HUNH? (52 Across), a spelling that really gets a “Huh?” from me.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Take A Break”

  1. I’m so glad I found your site. Thanks for all the help, I generally need at least some help. I solved the pool balls section early then discovered the 5 words within answers that were related to pool play: cue, chalk, bridge, rack and felt. What a clever construction. Thanks again. Curtiss

  2. Hi Curtiss! I can’t believe I missed the relationship between the long entries – cue, chalk, etc. I’ll blame my long day at work. 🙂 Will update my post with credit to you. Thanks for reading!

  3. I agree with you. Hunh is absurd. And by the way, the arrangement of the pool balls in this puzzle is for a game of “nine balls”, i.e., a variation of the more common pool game in which all the balls are used.

  4. Hi Syl! That’s a very good point about the number of pool balls! Now that I think about it, there are normally 15 – seven solids, seven stripes and the 8 ball (plus the cue ball, of course). Thanks for writing!

  5. Using today’s Sunday INQUIRER, I just solved this puzzle in near-record time & considered it very clever indeed, until I realized that it was WRONG! I’m sorry to say that commenter Syl is as incorrect on how pool balls are racked for a game of 9-ball as is constructor Joel Fagliano. The balls are to be racked in a tight diamond — 1/2/3/2/1 — with the 1-ball at the top (toward the breaker) & the 9-ball in the center. You can see the proper arrangement by clicking onto: http://www.generationpool.com/billiards-9-ball-rules.html … Now here’s what I don’t get at all: because this puzzle was vertically asymmetrical to start with (see, for example: WALTWHITMANBRIDGE, which has no equally long, rail-to-rail counterpart below the middle pockets), those pool balls COULD have been arranged the right way! How did fearless & fastidious editor Will Shortz miss THAT? Did he never “take a break” during college by playing pool? Well, as I’m rather fond of quoting from ARS POETICA, “Sometimes even the noble Homer nods” (Horace).

  6. Hi George! Point taken re: 9-ball. I only ever played traditional 8-ball, with stripes vs. solids. I suppose looked at the pool ball arrangement as a figurative, not literal, representation of racking. But you’re right, it would have been possible with the grid’s horizontal symmetry to render an authentic 9-ball set-up.

  7. I can accept a little “crossword license” but I always thought puzzles had to be symmetrical. As I remember, Will Shortz said so in his book.

  8. Hi Buzz! Sounds like you didn’t like the layout? Even though the puzzle isn’t a standard shape – rectangular instead of square – it still has horizontal symmetry (the grid is a mirror image if you bisect it from top to bottom). And if you didn’t like this grid, oh boy – just wait ’til next week. But no peeking at my blog ahead of time!

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