THURSDAY PUZZLE — Michael Blake and Jeff Chen, the constructors of this puzzle, were concerned about how to best present the theme for maximum “Aha!” moment effect, but they needn’t have worried. There is plenty of “Aha!” to go around.
My own “Aha!” moment came in two distinct steps. The theme answers alone did not reveal the theme to me, so I hunkered down — my mother would be appalled at my hunkering posture — and figured it out based on the revealer. But I missed the best part of the theme, so I’m going to spill the beans in the Theme section. I want you to enjoy your “Aha!” moment just as much as I did when I finally got it.
13A: Hi, kids! EDIE Sedgwick was a model and actress in the artist Andy Warhol’s circle of friends, lovers and filmmakers.
28A: Wordplay alert! “Lights up?” is not referring to a stage manager’s order, but the lights that are actually “up.” The answer is CHANDELIER.
31A: A “partner” clue is asking you to find a word that is commonly paired with the remaining word in the clue, usually separated by the word “and.” In this case, the answer to “Partner of older” would be WISER, as in “older and WISER.”
67A: Let’s distinguish between beauty and sexiness. “Close to 10, say” is more about beauty, which is external. SEXY is what radiates from the inside. Nice wordplay, though.
5D: I am terrible with names (who are you all, again?), so while I knew the answer was _ODRIC, I had to run the alphabet for that first letter.
16D: Dad joke alert! The snake that is good with numbers is an ADDER.
18D: “Jules or Juliette” are both French names, so the answer, NOM, will be in French.
22D: O.K., I chuckled. “Singers do it” makes it seem as if we are supposed to be thinking about people who sing, but this is a veiled capital clue. The Singer at the beginning of the clue is the sewing machine brand name, and they, of course, SEW.
44D: “Big shots at a hospital, informally?” are HYPOS, short for HYPOdermic needles.
There are four theme entries in Mr. Blake and Mr. Chen’s puzzle, all denoted by asterisks.
This is going to feel crazy-making if you’ve never seen this type of theme before, but hang in there, because you will love it when it really hits you. If it makes you feel any better — and that’s really what I’m here for — I didn’t fully get the theme until I had finished solving and looked back at the grid.
Let’s take a look at 20A’s “Needlepoint, e.g.” It’s a four-letter entry, and the answer happens to be IWORK. This, despite what it might sound like, is not a crafting app made by Apple. It is, however, a fragment of a word.
At first, I thought that we might need to insert the entry word WORK in the middle, as in “NeedleWORKpoint,” but that made no real sense. Forget I even said that.
But then I solved the revealer at 58A, which was clued “Advantage … or what the answer to each starred clue has?” The answer is UPPER HAND. Now see if you can guess where the word HAND might be in the grid.
That’s right; HAND is above each of the themed word fragments, hidden in other entries and quietly completing the fragments so that they match the clues.
So what appeared to be IWORK at first is actually HANDIWORK. Sneaky.
Need more help getting the UPPER HAND on this puzzle? Click on any of the clues below to see the answer.
33A. Sets the odds for
OOH AND AAH + ICAPS = HANDICAPS
50A. Plumber/carpenter types
HAN DYNASTY + YMEN = HANDYMEN
UPPER HAND + EDIN = HANDED IN
I can see some of you who are just starting to solve out there, shaking your head and thinking: “How am I supposed to figure that out? I’ve never seen anything like this before.” To you, I say two things:
1. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Thursday puzzles are not meant to be easy. But if you keep solving, you may eventually find yourself saying: “What happened to the Thursday puzzles? Are the editors making them easier? They used to be so challenging.” The truth is, you will have become a better solver and your lateral thinking skills will have improved.
2. You’ve seen it now. File this away in the back of your solving toolbox and I promise that you will recall it the next time it comes up.
Michael Blake: For the last 10-plus years, I’ve made a crossword puzzle for The Noe Valley Voice, a neighborhood paper for the area of San Francisco where I live. The puzzle always has a Noe Valley theme, and after 10 years, I’m always on the lookout for a new business around which I can hang a theme. When I saw a manicure joint on 24th Street called THE UPPER HAND, the idea came to me to place HAND above some other terms. It seemed like a cute idea! The problem was, the editors there want Monday-Tuesday difficulty, and this is more of a Thursday thing.
The other problem was that I couldn’t make it work in a 15×15 grid. At the 2018 A.C.P.T., I asked around about a talented “grid jockey” who might help me produce a fillable grid. And the answer came back from multiple places: Jeff Chen. I contacted him, he liked the idea, we batted several versions back and forth, and voilà — he saved the idea. What a pleasure it is to work with Jeff. I’m so pleased to see my name associated with his. Now I’ll be in the public database that he keeps!
[Constructors can download the XWord Info word list.]
Jeff Chen: It can be tough for any two constructors to see eye to eye on any given project. Michael had approached me with this concept, and I loved the idea of odd short words hanging out in the grid. Seeing IWORK or YMEN in one’s puzzle would be mystifying, flipping into hopefully a solid “Aha!” moment.
Turns out Michael had a very different idea, wanting regular-seeming words that simply didn’t seem to work with their clues (think: LED clued as HANDLED). He felt strongly that this would produce a better “Aha!” moment, whereas I worried that solvers would gloss over them, potentially finishing without understanding the concept. That would be impossible with something kooky like ICAPS taunting you.
How to resolve the logjam? My secret weapon is Jim Horne, my partner at XWord Info, who gives great second opinions. And if I don’t like his input, I simply ignore it and tell people he said something different.
Seriously though, I hope we came to the right decision. It’s always so difficult to predict what will produce the best “Aha!” moment possible.
The Tipping Point
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