24D. A “pumpkin seed, by any other name” is a PEPITA – I love roasted PEPITAs on a salad or as a snack.
53D. An “industry bigwig” is a CZAR, who can also be a high-level president. to advise who is responsible for resolving an ad hoc issue (for example, there is currently a change in progress for the White House Covid-19 CZAR).
58D. ” ___, brutal ? is a classic crossword clue for ET TU, referencing a line in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” right after Brutus stabs the titular character (whose title is derived from the word CZAR, in its original sense, for an emperor ).
The theme of this puzzle is revealed at 52A: “A helper in a group… or what can be found in each set of circled letters?” — AUXILIARY SINGERS. Each of the other four themed entries contains, in circles, the names of pop stars backward. See, for example, the central entry spanning the KHLO gridE-KARDASHIAN: Hidden in circles, read top-to-bottom, we have rapper/singer/pop star DRAKE.
The third thematic entry, CHISOF THEBS, is probably my favorite – it features the fabulous ADELE, arguably one of the greatest SINGERS of our time. It’s also just a fun (and very visual!) starter. The other two thematic phrases hide the singers LORDE and STING.
This is a surprisingly complicated theme for a Monday – Monday themes are usually very simple, but this theme could perhaps be more accurately described as simple!
Kudos to Mr. Ewbank and Mr. Chen for kicking off the week with this collaboration — let’s hear from them how it went:
John Ewbank: I’m a fan of the crossword puzzle genre, perhaps due to my cryptic crossword puzzle background – although I’m told they’re a bit outdated these days, having been done a little too much often in the past. So when I pitched this idea to Jeff in the summer of 2020, he was a little skeptical, but he felt that if we could come up with a solid set of thematic answers, we could get away with it. Sometimes you need a bit of luck to get good theme sets (it’s common to find good entries that don’t match lengthwise – the notes section on my phone is littered with them), but this time the gods smiled upon us and we found four fun ones, all featuring singers with unique five-letter names. As a bonus, the singers spanned multiple genres and decades, so hopefully there’s something for everyone. It’s a shame we couldn’t settle in Sinatra hiding in SPARTANISM, but you can’t have it all.
A few notes from across the pond:
• I would have used BACKING SINGER rather than BACKUP SINGER, but apparently that is not the case in the United States
• In Britain, the SPCA is known as the RSPCA (the R stands for Royal, its patron being Her M the Q).
• Where I come from, any garden can be a TEA GARDEN (weather permitting).
Speaking of which, time to get ready and listen to my Stindradelorde Spotify playlist…
Jeff Chen: “Wordsearch” puzzles are a tough sell these days, with Will Shortz getting a ton of these types of submissions. When John suggested I do one using reversed words, I didn’t have much hope that it would lead to anything. But we thought, why not take a look and see if we can land something that lifts it from the pack?
I’m very impressed with long hidden words, so I took the brute force approach of sifting through all possible medium-length words (five letters and up) to see if they were hidden in long words (more than eight letters) in the XWord Information Word List. After my computer nearly died of heatstroke, we had a long list to go through.
Few things were interesting, but one caught my eye: ADELE, hidden upside down in CHISELLED ABS. Even this pop culture idiot knows ADELE! Once John suggested BACKUP SINGERS, it sounded like something.
Thank goodness John knows pop music better, because I wouldn’t have recognized LORDE and DRAKE if they had knighted me or made fun of me.
Want to submit a crossword puzzle to The New York Times?
The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.
For tips on how to get started, read our “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle” series.