WEDNESDAY PUZZLE – Rarely does a Wednesday puzzle make me shake my head wondering how a builder managed to translate an interesting language pattern into a crossword theme, but today’s puzzle from Rich Proulx was a breathtaking intelligence. Before I dive into this theme, however, I want to do a quick grab for an upcoming crossword puzzle tournament and take a look at some of the trickier clues and entries in this grid.
Confusing things to do at home
the Boswords Spring Themeless League is now open for registration. This is a weekly online tournament (with no duration requirement) which takes place in March and April. The tournament, as its name suggests, features unthemed puzzles, all of which are tied to three difficulty levels, making the biannual unthemed Boswords leagues the perfect entry point for solvers who want to try out competitive solving for the first time. The easiest puzzles have a difficulty level similar to a New York Times Tuesday puzzle, so if you can solve today’s puzzle in under 20 minutes, you’re more than ready to face it.
Boswords also offers solvers the option to compete in a pairs division, which I’m going to try for the first time this season. So whether you’re new to competitive problem solving or you’re a former pro looking to challenge yourself with a puzzle harder than a New York Times Saturday, this tournament is for you. We’ll see each other there! And now back to today’s puzzle.
1A. I had no idea the word BLOOP meant “weak hit” in baseball. I use BLOOP to mean the same thing as “boop”, the sound you make by booping (or BLOOP) a dog on the nose with a finger. Frankly, I prefer my definition.
17A. If you’re not a fan of Nietzsche and are new to crossword puzzles, you might not know that “ECCE Homo” is a Latin phrase meaning “behold the man”, referring to the biblical scene in which Pontius Pilate shows Jesus with a crown of thorns. It has appeared 307 times in The New York Times Crossword, although only once before in reference to Nietzsche. Clean (hush)!
20A. The “Key that is never used alone: Abbr.” is not a door key but a keyboard key: CTRL (“control”), which is always used in conjunction with another keyboard key.
21A. A “Sign of a full house” is SRO, which stands for “standing room only” in a theater. It’s unlikely to see SRO in theaters these days due to capacity restrictions.
32A. The internet tells me that the “French trick game” ÉCARÉ is similar to whist, but as someone who doesn’t know how to play whist either, I can’t say it’s particularly useful. The French word ÉCARTÉ means “thrown”.
34A. The geometric term for the shape of a donut with a hole in the center is “toroid”, the plural of which is TORI, so “donut shapes” are TORI.
43A. Yet another slight misdirection here which, like 20A, may have made you think of keys, but instead “They’re set in locks” is the clue for OARS, because OARS on a rowboat (or other boat calling OARS) are placed as oarlocks.
10D. Speaking of ships, “This ship” is the clue for HER because traditionally ships have been given the feminine pronouns she/her/her.
28D. I couldn’t figure out the “Power Outlet” clue until I got JACK from the crosses, how perfectly logical it was. But until I saw JACK materialize, I thought it was going to be a hair transplant clue.
41D. And on that note, the “Line when you’re late to the punch line” is OH I GET IT – that’s exactly what I said when I got JACK for 28D (though admittedly that wasn’t so much of a punch line I was late for a fairly simple cue angle).
49D. Finally, “Carrot’s counterpart” is STICK. When a clue asks for the “counterpart” of something, it usually means the other word in a common “X and Y” phrase, such as, in this case, the pair of “Carrot and STICK” to describe the use of ‘offering an inducement and threat of punishment to encourage someone to make a preferred choice.
Any theme that gives me a chance to link to a Dolly Parton video is a winner in my book, but this theme would have been a favorite even without this bonus. This puzzle features four themed entrances and a central revealer that come together beautifully in a colorful labor of love.
The first thematic entry, at 18A, is WHITE COLLAR (“Worker designation coined by Upton Sinclair”). Next are the entries GREENSLEEVES (“Traditional folk song played by British and Australian ice cream trucks”), SILVER LINING (“Upside, when down”) and YELLOWTAILS (“Some sushi menu fish”).
Without seeing the central entrance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this theme was as simple as colorful phrases, which in itself would be a neat theme. Mr. Proulx, however, has a trick in his GREENSLEEVES. The revealer, at 38A, brings these four themes together with the clue “Source of envy in Genesis 37 which alludes to 18-, 24-, 49- and 58-Across”. The source of envy in question is Joseph’s COAT OF MANY COLORS, which, as explained in Genesis 37, arouses such envy in his brothers that they sell him into slavery.
Once the revealer is solved, the purpose of the second half of the colored theme entries becomes clear (and a slow solver could be forgiven for exclaiming OH I GET IT!). The COLLAR, SLEEVES, LINING and TAILS come together to form a vibrant layer of WHITE, GREEN, SILVER and YELLOW. Even if it gives me a headache to imagine such a coat, I love this skilful patchwork pun. And, as I’ve said before, I’ll take any excuse to embed a Dolly Parton video in the column.
Congratulations to Mr. Proulx for this fabulous thematic achievement!
“Joseph and the Incredible Technicolor Dreamcoat” was my high school musical. My theatrical talents stopped at song and dance, but watching my friends perform this show over and over planted a seed, a seed that bore fruit when Sam Ezersky, the digital puzzle editor, told me sent the nicest acceptance email.
This will be my last New York Times puzzle for a while – and that’s a good thing. Will Shortz was very intentional about making room for new and more diverse builders. In 2021, 20% of submissions were from women, but women built 30% of published puzzles. Last year, 92 manufacturers debuted; 35% of them were women. If you’ve ever considered adding your voice to help increase the diversity of the crossword puzzle builder community, you can apply until March 7 for your chance to be mentored by a New York Times staff member. Crossword. I feel lucky to be part of this community at a time when such progress is valued and so many people continue to fight for progress. Building crossword puzzles is the greatest hobby.
But if you think crossword solving is the greatest hobby, I get that too – because it’s a golden age of solving. After extending your daily streak, if you’re still thirsty for more, there are so many great free and independent crossword puzzles out there. AT Proulx indicesyou’ll find some of mine and links to some great builder sites that have lots more as well as links to other independent crossword sites. If you’ve never explored the rabbit hole of freelance crossword puzzles, you have a treat in store.
My stepfather, who helped me learn crosswords, passed away last year. Today would have been his 93rd birthday. He was a New York schoolteacher, author, and World War II veteran. This one’s for you, Gus.
Want to submit a crossword puzzle to The New York Times?
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For tips on how to get started, read our “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle” series.
The tipping point
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