Tag Archives: NYT crossword

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.

Mark My Words

New York Times crossword Feb. 17 / Constructed by Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

This puzzle had me stumped for a while. I figured there was some kind of trick — two letters in one square, maybe? — but old-fashioned punctuation was about the farthest thing from my mind. The cryptic title (“Mark My Words”) certainly didn’t offer the hint it sometimes does.

I knew something was up after getting _ _ R FILM for 95 Down (“‘Halloween,’ e.g.”). It had to be HORROR FILM, but how? There were only two empty squares. And the “Co-founder of Death Row Records” (126 Across) was certainly DR DRE, or even DOCTOR DRE, but my grid showed D _ _ DRE. What was going on here? I finally got it after solving 94 Across: “Tony-nominated play made into an Oscar-nominated movie“: FROST / NIXON, with the ” / ” (slash) occupying its own box. That made “Halloween” a (SLASH)ER FILM. Everything fell into place after that.

You had to have punctuation in mind when solving this puzzle.
You had to have punctuation in mind when solving this puzzle.

DR . DRE, with the period in its own box, creates EDWARDIAN (PERIOD) at 72 Down (“Early 20th century, in British history”). The dash in THE IN-CROWD (“Cool people,” 45 Across) leads to BALDER(DASH) in 6 Down (“Twaddle”). The “1968 movie directed by Paul Newman” — RACHEL , RACHEL (67 Across) — uses a comma that creates the answer WING (COMMA)NDER at 47 Down (“Rank below group captain”). And “Gotham police procedural” is CSI : NY (12 Across), enabling 15 Down to be the very clever (COLON)EL MUSTARD (“One of the usual suspects?”).

So the title (“Mark My Words”) was an invitation to use punctuation marks. A pretty challenging crossword. My only complaint is that there weren’t more theme answers. (Easy for me to say as a solver. As a fledgling constructor, I’m still struggling to create daily-size puzzles, much less Sunday grids.)

What’s In A Name Dept.: The theme entailed several proper names, which made me wary of a couple monikers that simply turned out to be fun entries: “Jeopardy” host ALEX TREBEK (“Answer man?” 76 Down) and James Bond cohort MONEYPENNY (“Miss at the movies?” 4 Down). The latter is prominently featured in “Skyfall,” the latest film featuring 007. Also included in the grid: ETHAN (“Tom Cruise’s character in ‘Mission: Impossible,'” 59 Down) and AIDAN (“Actor Quinn,” 80 Across).

In the News Dept.: “Pastime for Barack Obama at Camp David” (128 Across) is SKEET shooting, something only recently revealed to the public through this photo.

Not A Moment Too Soon Dept.: Many of the Phillies reported to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., this past week, including slugger Ryan Howard — the man we hope will once again be our BIG BAT (“Baseball team’s leading hitter,” 6 Across).

Punny Dept.: “Apple core, briefly” is a CPU (12 Down). “Work from a folder” is ORIGAMI (119 Across). “Magic, once” is LA LAKER (23 Across). “Opportunity creator” is NASA (96 Down), referring to the agency the made the Mars rover Opportunity.

Where In The World? Dept.: “Island SW of Majorca” is IBIZA (122 Across). “Body of water on the Uzbek border” is the ARAL SEA (19 Across). And the “Fictional Indiana town where ‘Parks and Recreation’ is set” is PAWNEE (86 Across).

About the Author(s) Dept.: So what exactly is this “J.A.S.A. Crossword Class” sharing credit with constructor Ian Livengood? It’s a course taught to senior citizens at the Jewish Association of Services for the Aged. They also created a daily puzzle back in December.

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.


I Heard You The First Time

New York Times crossword Feb. 10 / Constructed by Patrick Berry

What what? I couldn’t hear you the first time. Today’s puzzle was too easy, you say? Yes, yes, I’m afraid it was.

I suppose solvers are bound to feel let down after a challenging puzzle like “Black Cats,” and today’s simple theme definitely falls into that category. Its repetitive clues lead to phrases that repeat the leading word, like HUNGRY, HUNGRY HIPPOS (“Somewhat redundant Milton Bradley game?” 30 Across) and OFF-OFF BROADWAY SHOW (“Somewhat redundant theater production?” 100 Across), to name a couple.

Others: GREEN, GREEN GRASS OF HOME (“Somewhat redundant 1965 country song?” 22 Across); THE WILD, WILD WEST (“Somewhat redundant 1960s spy series?” 64 Across); SHORT, SHORT STORY (“Somewhat redundant literary genre?” 83 Across); EXTRA-EXTRA-LARGE (“Somewhat redundant size?” 49 Across); and the capper, IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (“Extremely redundant 1963 caper film?” 112 Across). It not only has one of the longest titles in Hollywood, it’s also one of the longest movies, period — 192 minutes. I tried to watch it once, “tried” being the key word.

Can You Repeat That? Dept.: Just in case you haven’t spent enough time in this echo chamber, “Human speech mimickers” are MYNAHS (9 Down).

Big Sigh Dept.: “MTV’s earliest viewers, mostly” were GEN X (31 Down). Yeah, that’s me. “Portlandia” had an awesome sketch recently featuring ’80s-era VJs Tabitha Soren, Kurt Loder and Matt Pinfield (OK, I don’t remember him at all) in which Gen X-ers try to take back the channel so that it actually plays music again.

Sweet Tooth Dept.: I don’t eat MALLOMARS, which is probably why I had no idea they are “Nabisco treats sold only seasonally” (79 Down). Marshmallows have a growing season?

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Cheney’s follower” as vice president is BIDEN (103 Down), who happens to be coming to Philly tomorrow for a forum on gun violence. I’ll stretch this hometown category to include the well-known South Philly street ELLSWORTH (though in this grid it references the “South Dakota Air Force base,” 44 Down) and OWL (“Bedtime preyer?” 56 Across), the mascot of Temple University. Temple just joined UCONN (“Big East sch., 75 Down) in that athletic conference.

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.

A Whiff Of Cologne

New York Times crossword Feb. 3 / Constructed by Dan Schoenholz

Achtung! Today’s puzzle requires some dabbling in Deutsch, which is kind of funny considering I first thought the title hinted at a French phrase. “A Whiff Of Cologne” made me think of “eau de cologne,” which led me to wonder if the theme answers would contain an extra “O.”

I realized that theory was wrong after solving PUMPERNICKEL (“Alternative to white,” 21 Across) and KAFFEE KLATSCH (“Informal social gathering, 50 Down). But I still didn’t put it all together until I got the sneezy GESUNDHEIT (“It’s a blessing,” 30 Down). The title refers to Cologne, Germany — not perfume — and all the theme entries are German words that have made their way into English. (“Gesundheit,” by the way, actually means “health.”)

Others: BLITZKRIEG (“Forceful advance,” 46 Down), REALPOLITIK (“Practical approach to diplomacy,” 26 Down), POLTERGEIST (“Rapper?” 44 Down), KINDERGARTEN (“Low grade?” 102 Across) and BILDUNGSROMAN (“Novel that focuses on character growth,” 15 Down).

This might be where I mention that my mother speaks fluent German. Legend has it that she tried to teach it to me as a child, but I apparently rebuffed her when I realized none of my friends spoke it. Wonder if constructor Dan Schoenholz is of German heritage?

Speaking In Tongues Dept.: If German’s not your thing, the puzzle included a few other languages. “Sun, in Verdun” is SOLEIL (17 Across). “Division of a house” (though I can’t reproduce the accent over the “o” in “Division”) is SALA (6 Across). “Los ___ mosqueteros” is TRES (37 Down). And “Language related to Tahitian” is MAORI (98 Across). The word GREEK also appears, but only in reference to a “Fraternity member” (75 Across).

Wow, Really? Dept.: “Time’s second African-American Person of the Year” is OBAMA (85 Down). That made me curious about the first African-American to be given the title, so I looked it up: It was Martin Luther King Jr., who made the cover in 1964. (Obama has actually been named Person of the Year twice, in 2008 and last year.)

Doubled-Up Dept.: “Roosevelt’s successor” was used two times in succession, yielding TRUMAN (62 Across) and TAFT (64 Across). “Inexperienced” led to GREEN (30 Across) and NAIVE (51 Down).

Who Needs Football? Dept.: It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the last day of the NFL season. But since the Eagles were 4-12 this year, our season actually ended several weeks ago; Philadelphians have been focused more on Feb. 11, when pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training. Along those lines, “Diamond stat” is RBI (54 Across), while “Baseball commissioner Bud” is SELIG (92 Across).

Quick Wit Dept.: TWAIN said “Familiarity breeds contempt — and children” (36 Across).

Journalism Dept.: I only knew the name of this Alaska newspaper because one of my college roommates worked there for a while: “Fairbanks Daily News-___” MINER (70 Across).

For Fun Dept.: There were a lot of interesting, unusual entries in this puzzle. Among them: ARCHDUKE (“Noble rank,” 104 Across), RED DOT (“Mark of a rifle’s laser sight,” 88 Down), ACED IT (“Confident test-taker’s cry,” 39 Down), LOW RENT (“Cheap, as housing,” 83 Down), SPIRACLE (“Insect’s opening for air,” 80 Across) and BAR TABS (“They may be running in a saloon,” 10 Across).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: It’s not Philly exactly, but it’s close enough. “‘Christina’s World’ painter Andrew” WYETH (20 Down) lived and worked in nearby Chadds Ford, where you can tour his studio and see much of his art at the Brandywine River Museum.

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

Solving Tips

Here are some hints and tricks for figuring out the wordplay in New York Times crossword puzzles. Clues used in this post come from actual NYT puzzles or Merl Reagle crosswords.

_ If the clue contains an abbreviation, the answer will be abbreviated. “Govt.-issued ID,” for example, yields the answer SSN, the shorthand for “Social Security number.” The clue “E.M.T. training” yields CPR. (An exception might be when the abbreviation is part of a military or police title: “Det. Bonasera on ‘CSI: NY'” is the full word STELLA, even though her title of “Detective” is shortened.)

_ Watch for plurals in a clue. “Soup kitchen needs” are LADLES, because there’s more than one “need.” Sometimes knowing an entry will end in “S” allows you to fill in its last square, perhaps  sparking the answer to a crossing word. Be wary, of course, of sneaky Latin plurals (say, RADII for the plural of RADIUS).

_ The tense of an answer stays consistent with tense of the clue tense. “Border on” is ABUT, while “Borders on” would be ABUTS.

_ Watch for consistency on a first-name basis. “Dottie in ‘A League of Their Own'” is GEENA, the first name of the actress who played the character Dottie Hinson. If the clue had said “Hinson in ‘A League of their Own,'” the answer would be DAVIS, Geena’s last name.

_ If the clue has a foreign word in it, so will the answer. “Members of la familia” are TIOS, the Spanish word for “uncles.”

_ Question marks always indicate the clue is a pun or play on words.

_ Beware of proper nouns masquerading as regular nouns, especially in a sports context. “Warriors’ grp.” refers not to an association for soldiers but to the NBA, the “group” to which the Golden State Warriors belong. “Giant in the field” is usually OTT, for Mel Ott, who played baseball for the New York Giants (before they moved to San Francisco). “Budget alternative” nearly always refers to Budget car rental, not a generic spending plan.

_ Clues that use words like “for openers” or “finish” indicate the answer is a prefix or suffix. “Ten, for openers” is DECA, the prefix indicating 10. “Friendly introduction?” is USER, for “user-friendly.” And “Meteor’s tail?” is the suffix OLOGY, for “meteorology.”

_ Know your Roman numerals: I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500, M=1,000. Putting a smaller number in front of a larger number means you’re subtracting it. So “Super Bowl XLVII” translates to “Super Bowl 47.”

_ Beware of pronunciation and homonyms. “Tumbler” is a type of glass but also an acrobat. “Sewer” is an urban drainage system as well as someone who sews things.

_ When I have a few letters of a down answer but am still stumped, I will re-write them Hangman-style on a piece of scratch paper, i.e. _RO_SW_R_. Sometimes seeing the letters spelled out horizontally makes it easier to supply the missing letters: CROSSWORD.

_ When I’m stumped by a single missing letter, I will mentally go through every letter of the alphabet until I find the one that fits. Seriously.

What tips would you offer? Have questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Black Cats

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.

Nine black cats (not eight!) are slinking through this grid.
Nine black cats (not eight!) are slinking through this grid.

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?

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


New York Times crossword Jan. 20 / Constructed by Yaakov Bendavid

Hmmm. “Awe-inspiring” would not be the phrase I’d use to describe this puzzle, even though those words are the source of the theme.

Constructor Yaakov Bendavid tweaks the phrase with an “L” sound to yield the title “All-Inspiring.” The theme answers follow this pattern too, adding an “L” sound to common phrases. So a “Fencing coach’s pronouncement?” is DUEL AS I SAY (11 Down) and “Prince’s pottery equipment?” is THE ROYAL WHEEL (23 Across).

Others: “Haymakers?” are GREEN BALE PACKERS (14 Down). “Strategy employed by a Siberian Hansel and Gretel?” is ICE CUBE TRAIL (3 Down). “Stop proceeding in the maze when you reach the end?” is DO NOT PASS GOAL (104 Across). “‘Waiter, we ordered the fish!’?” is I TOLD YOU SOLE (58 Down). “Advice to Jonah?” is GET OUT OF THE WHALE (36 Down). And “Approach a thruway booth?” is HEAD TO TOLL (67 Down).

Meh. There were some interesting entries in the grid, but the theme answers weren’t among them. Unusual entries included LOT’S WIFE (“Biblical figure punished for hindsight?” 18 Down), EAST L.A. (“Calif. barrio setting,” 90 Down), LITTORAL (“Of the seashore,” 17 Down) and SNAPLESS (“Fastened with Velcro, e.g.,” 19 Down).

Listen Up Dept.: “Chefs hate hearing them” is UGHS (9 Down), while “Teachers love hearing them” is AHAS (98 Across).

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: “Firearm company for nearly five centuries” is BERETTA (25 Across).

Tricky Dept.: “President who was an electrician by profession” (79 Down) refers not to an American leader but to Lech WALESA of Poland. Speaking of presidents, Barack Obama quietly took the oath of office today at the White House. He’ll do it again tomorrow in front of about 800,000 people.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Hails from Rocky Balboa” are YOS (84 Across)! And a “Hooter” is an OWL (34 Across). Hooter the Owl happens to be the mascot for Temple University.

Fermented Curd Dept.: “Soft cheese” is BRIE (39 Across), “Semisoft cheese” is GOUDA (96 Across), and “Hard cheese” is EDAM (80 Across). After all that, you really should watch Monty Python’s classic “Cheese Shop” sketch.

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