THURSDAY PUZZLE — No offense to veteran constructors but it is always a kick to see a debut. I’m sure I’m not the only one of us who thinks up a “great idea for a puzzle” every so often and never follows through, so I experience envy and admiration while solving — and also a sense that whatever I’m working on was that idea that was too fun or too good to not bring to fruition.

Today’s grid by a brand-new constructor, Sophia Maymudes, is a great example of that — a cleverly executed concept that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen before, a sweet take on a dead common expression.

The cluing on this puzzle was sprightly and very balanced, especially when you consider that its maker has probably lived about 98 percent of her life in the 21st century. Theme notwithstanding, there was a blend of light fill, like RATS, OOPS, HOPE and AIOLI, contrasted by a couple of grim bits and pieces. (NOOSE was one, and DYE as clued — hope you’re enjoying your Lucky Charms!)

5A: I’m never sure whether a clue that’s nostalgic is by definition difficult — and given the time of year, is anyone unaware of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and its director, Frank CAPRA? But then I learned that he didn’t actually win an Oscar for directing that film (and it was from 1946, too). He won for “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington (1936) and “It Happened One Night” (1934).

62A: As far as I could tell from xwordinfo.com, this was a novel way to clue NOVA, and I had no idea that New Jersey had ever been known as “Nova Caesarea,” after the isle of Jersey in the English Channel, which was once, it turns out, “Caesarea.” Numismatists might have known this because there are coins from the 1700s engraved with this name.

5D: We learned this over the last several years, when discussing national politics and economics — you’d think the fifth-largest economy in the world would be a country, but it’s CALIFORNIA. New York is 13th. Minnesota, according to U.S. News and World Report, is the “third Best State,” but it’s colder than New York.

The Golden State always makes me think of Joni Mitchell singing this song.

10D: I was stuck on the Artful Dodger character here as a mentor for Oliver Twist, forgetting that both report to a creepy older guy; then I misspelled FAGIN with two a’s, so I’m calling it tricky.

55D: I have double déjà vu on this one, I’ve done this so many times before; “Emirs” for IMAMS, even though the “Muslim” in the clue should be an indication that we’re looking for a religious leader.

Ms. Maymudes has built her puzzle around (and within, you could say) a rebus that appears in four squares, with a revealer at 44A and a bonus revealer at 34A. I did not find the rebus that difficult, as it was symmetrical and pretty simply presented. Also: 1A, “Things driven on ranches,” made me instantly think of this old commercial.

(There’s actually a LINT roller cameo in this advertisement, and a number of other touches which I vividly remember although I certainly didn’t remember the company behind it — EDS, which is no longer.)

However, if that mental hop didn’t happen for you, you had that clue to start with. It might have led to something vehicular, like a jeep, truck or tractor, or livestock — could have been dogies, which would have been funny in this case, or CATTLE. Not that any of these words fit. So then, if you looked at 1D, “Mailing from Lands’ End or Williams-Sonoma,” the first thing you’d probably think of would be CATALOG. This time of year, you’re probably swimming in them — unless you’ve mastered the Art of Removing Oneself from Lists. So you’ve got CATTLE running across in four squares, and CATALOG running down in five … Looks like we have a rebus and a pet this Thursday.

There are three more instances of the rebus, in predictable location, if you have solved 44A. “Diagonally …” is KITTY CORNER, and KITTY CORNER is a cute description rooted in “cater-cornered,” with “cater” derived from the French “quatre,” or four. Phew. In addition, those of us with cat bosses, as well as people with house rabbits, ferrets, potbellied pigs and other neat denizens of the animal kingdom, might glean this theme from 34A, “Places where house pets ‘go,’” or LITTER BOX. Because the four corner boxes on this grid are filled with cats!

Some themes are so hard not to spoil, by the way. I really wanted to illustrate this column with a certain Broadway opening, and I wanted to refer more specifically to a favorite Carl Sandburg poem too (Ms. Maymudes comes in like the fog to make her debut?) I wanted to ask you all if you were still in your pajamas, and if you’d seen this already.

I also wanted to ask how many people remember (or are still) sliding a furry beast off the newspaper, repeatedly, while they solved a puzzle?

Hello Crossworld! I’m Sophia, a junior at Carleton College studying computer science and math, and I’m beyond hyped to have my first puzzle in the New York Times. I’m a Seattle native, musical theater geek, competitive bridge player and the worst cook you’ve ever met. I’ve been solving crosswords with my family for as long as I can remember, and constructing on and off since high school.

This puzzle came together fairly quickly compared to others I’ve written — I finished a draft of the grid just a few hours after thinking of the theme. Originally, KITTYCORNER was the only revealer — It was truly a stroke of luck that I noticed in the midst of filling the grid that LITTER BOXES both fit symmetrically and described the same gimmick.

This was my first New York Times submission ever, so I was truly stunned when I got the “yes” from the editing team (well, after a quick reconfiguration of the northeast corner!) Since I write crosswords nearly exclusively for my non-puzzle obsessed classmates, my cluing tends to skew easy and modern, so thanks to the team for upping the difficulty level. Looking back on this puzzle, I do wish there was some more snazzy short fill: DON’T PANIC is definitely my favorite entry in the grid.

Enjoy the puzzle, and I hope to be here again soon!

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