Tag Archives: NYT puzzle

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.

All-Inspiring

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.