WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — Ned White feathers his nest with a crossword theme that might leave you guessing until the very end. And then some.

22A: Wordplay alert! “Art often of marginal quality?” is not a velvet painting. It’s a DOODLE, because they are often drawn in the margins.

30A: “Bourbon and Beal” is not a fancy cocktail. They are streets (STS) in New Orleans and Memphis, respectively.

35A: Note the capital S in “Head Stone?” We’re supposed to be thinking about the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards might disagree, but the answer is MICK Jagger.

43A: I ran the alphabet for this one. “Omicrons’ predecessors” is asking you to come up with the Greek letter before omicron. I had _IS and ran letters until I came up with something that made sense: XIS.

49A: Hi, kids! The Students for a Democratic Society, or S.D.S., was a student organization known for its activism against the Vietnam War. Its leader, Tom Hayden, was also a member of a group called the Chicago Seven, which was tried for inciting violence and rioting at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Ill. By 1969, the group splintered into several groups, the most notorious of which was the Weathermen.

56A: The answer to “Provides pieces for” is GUNS, because GUNS are sometimes known as pieces.

7D: Based on the rules for clues that use the words “beginning of” or “end,” you would think that the answer to “Fable’s end” would be SILENT E, but it’s not. It’s the much more straightforward MORAL, as in the MORAL of the story.

11D: In this puzzle, “Screwdrivers, e.g.” are not TOOLS, they are HARD DRINKS, because they contain vodka and orange juice. Does anyone know how the screwdriver got its name? Legend has it that decades ago, American oil workers in the Persian Gulf discreetly added vodka to their orange juice, because who wouldn’t if you had the chance? Unfortunately, their rigs neglected to pack cocktail spoons, and they had to stir the drink, so (stop reading now if you are easily nauseated) they stirred their libations with their screwdrivers.

29D: I so wanted “Like some terriers” to be HARD HEADED. It turns out that the answer is WIRE-HAIRED, but take it from me: Do not bring a terrier into your home unless you are prepared to live with an animal that thinks faster than you do. And has a rudimentary knowledge of tools and how to use them. And likes to keep busy, no matter what the dog decides that means. I think they are a hoot, but if you are looking for a doorstop with fur, think about rescuing a retired greyhound instead.

33D: Wordplay would like to welcome the Swiss town of GSTAAD back to the New York Times Crossword after a hiatus of 35 years.

47D: Hi, kids! I have a fun project for you. No, it’s not homework. Find an older woman — it could be a relative, a family friend or a teacher, as long as she is over 50 — and just say the name “Donny OSMOND” to her. Observe her as, even all these years later, she closes her eyes, sighs and melts into her chair. There might even be squealing.

Mr. White offers us a set of five common “X in the Y” idioms, such as “Bird in the hand?” and some of the squares in each theme entry contain circles. Those circles, when read from left to right, spell out a type of “X,” and the entire theme entry is a synonym for Y, so that the “X” is in the “Y.”

For example, the answer to 17A’s “Bird in the hand?” is HIRED PERSON. That makes very little sense, but take a closer look at the circles: They spell “HERON.” A HERON is a type of bird, and HIRED PERSON is a synonym for “hand,” as in a ranch hand.

Similarly, at 24A, the answer to the clue “Snake in the grass?” is CATTLE FODDER. The circled letters spell ADDER, a type of snake. “Grass” is CATTLE FODDER.

Need one more example? O.K., but I’m hiding this one behind a link. See if you can get it without my help, but if you’re stuck, click the link to see the answer:

Looking at the finished version of this puzzle, I think what I’m most impressed by is the mix of difficult (actually, evil) clues with easy clues. Maybe just as a Wednesday should be — a blend of tough and tender. Thanks, Will (and Sam and Joel), for this.

I loved making this puzzle, taking familiar “____ in the ____” phrases and looking for synonyms or descriptors that enclosed a synonym for the first word in some way. It’s one of my favorites — appropriate as my 25th for The New York Times. Hope you enjoyed it.

You may have read that I’m principally a writer of novels and scripts, with crosswords as a second line of defense. I’m pleased to announce the recent publication of my sixth novel, “Billy Buck,” available on and my website,, in print or e-book. It’s a story of a nearly broken man driving his teenage kids cross-country and their strange encounters along the way.

Here’s the blurb:

Maybe it started with his trip to Devils Tower ten years earlier, or maybe it was connected to his life-threatening surgery a few years later. But for Billy Buck, something is seriously askew, seeming to distort the very fabric of reality around him.

Now he’s on a cross-country road trip with his two teenage kids to deliver them to their mother in Southern California as part of their custody agreement. In a decrepit old van, one can expect misadventures over three thousand miles. But what happens en route lurches sharply off the highway into the realm of the nearly impossible, challenging their view of themselves and the world they inhabit.

Something out there — powerful and invasive — has its sights trained on them.

Almost finished solving but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.

Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.

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