Tag Archives: NYT puzzle hints

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.


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.