FRIDAY PUZZLE — This was a very entertaining puzzle by Jeff Chen and Jim Horne, the swell guys who bring you Xwordinfo.com. But first, a Wordplay history lesson. And yes, all of this will be on the test.
Commentary on the New York Times Crossword is nothing new. Before Wordplay started as a blog in 2008, there was an open discussion forum for solvers, managed by our beloved Variety puzzle constructors, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. As far as anyone remembers, that forum existed as far back as the 1990s.
When blogs became popular, The New York Times decided that there should be one that discussed the puzzle. The crossword editor, Will Shortz, asked Mr. Horne — who had been writing a personal blog about the puzzle — to bring his Canadian optimism and wit to The Times. This occasion was announced by Garson Hampfield, the well-respected crossword inker.
Mr. Horne established the original style for the blog, and his trademark thoughtfulness taught readers how to appreciate a crossword puzzle. The constructor Patrick Merrell joined Mr. Horne in 2009, and together they created this daily siren call to the New York Times Crossword.
Everyone needs new mountains to climb, however, and Mr. Horne and Mr. Merrell decided to move on in late 2010. My first book had just come out, and Mr. Shortz asked me if I wanted to take over, as I had proven that I could write in full sentences, as opposed to clues. My first Wordplay post went live in January 2011, and it has been my pleasure to be your host ever since.
That brings us to today. Mr. Horne and his XWord Info partner, the constructor Jeff Chen, open our solving weekend with a clever and tough offering. I felt there were plenty of places to get footholds, but just as many places to get stuck. Snuggled deep inside my wheelhouse, I knew that EMUs lay “dark green eggs,” and that “Public house options” were ALES, but struggled with “Card holding?” (the answer is BAT, which the St. Louis Cardinals — Cards for short — hold) and “That’s a wrap!” for BOA, because I don’t think of a feathered BOA as a traditional wrap.
On a Friday, getting stuck is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s expected that the solver will have a tug-of-war with the constructor and editor, and I very much enjoyed mine.
Those sort-of-staggered stacks are terrific, as are the vertical ones. I especially liked CAMERA SHY, TALES OF WOE, IN NAME ONLY, PURPLE HAZE, ARCHIMEDES, APOSTROPHE and PLAYED GOD.
And, as a funk fan, having P FUNK right in the center made me smile.
1A: I think everyone is “Afraid of getting shot,” but in this case, we’re not supposed to be thinking about being shot with a gun. This clue hints at being shot with a camera, and so the answer is CAMERA SHY.
10A: Internet lingo alert! If you are blowing up someone’s inbox with messages — even if they are totally innocent — that’s known as SPAMming. Used in a sentence: “Sorry to SPAM you, but I had a lot of thoughts that I sent as individual messages.”
16A: We’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again, so it’s worth noticing. “Slanted writing” sounds as if it’s referring to italics, but it’s not. In this case, it’s hinting at an OP-ED COLUMN, which is written with a slant or bias.
21A: I honestly had a tough time with “It’s a wrap!” and now that I know the answer I could just smack myself. But for me, a “wrap” is more like a shawl, and a BOA is much thinner and has feathers.
37A: Thomas Pynchon knew how to call it. “There is no literature and art without PARANOIA,” said he. Why are you all staring at me?
48A: The word “works” in the clue “Works toward one’s passion?” looks as if it is supposed to be a verb, but it’s not. In this clue, it’s acting as a noun, and the works about one’s passion are ODES.
5D: I root for people, but I rarely ROOT ON them (the clue was “Cheer for”). Maybe I might ROOT them ON. But mostly I root for them.
12D: Mr. Horne came up with a brilliant but standards-unfriendly clue for ARCHIMEDES (you can see what it was in his notes below), and it probably wouldn’t have been a good Friday clue anyway.
21D: It took me forever to figure this out, and it really shouldn’t have. “Card holding?” refers to the St. Louis Cardinals, also known as the Cards, and as baseball players, they hold BATs.
23D/26D: I liked this twin clue, “Something you shouldn’t do around Christmas.” The answer for the former is PEEK, and for the latter, the answer is POUT.
26D: O.K., this was obviously a prank played on me by the constructors and possibly the editors, not that I’m paranoid (see 37A). I was hoping against hope that for once an undergarment mention like “Supports for some athletes” might target men’s unmentionables instead of women’s. And it did not escape my notice that the word JOCKSTRAPS fit perfectly in that slot. The answer, however, is SPORTS BRAS.
Jeff Chen: It’s so much fun working with Jim over at XWord Info. He’s thoughtful, brilliant, talented in so many arenas (check out his Hamilton cover band!), and best of all, funny. While we were working on this puzzle, I was endlessly amused by one of his clue suggestions, for ARCHIMEDES: [One of his inventions really screwed things up].
These days I spend most of my time writing children’s books — my first book is coming out in a few days, ULTRABALL: LUNAR BLITZ!
Jim Horne: The ARCHIMEDES clue Jeff mentioned was the one we submitted, but my cover letter included the clue I wanted: “The guy who invented screwing.” That’s my favorite clue I’ve ever invented, even though I knew it wouldn’t fly in The Times.
Hey, I’m back on Wordplay, my digital home for three years a decade ago! I’m thrilled to see it thrive under Ms. Amlen’s stewardship.
The Tipping Point
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