FRIDAY PUZZLE — In December, Smithsonian magazine contacted me to ask for a comment on the end of the decade in crossword puzzles. I was in the process of writing my own take on this, but I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I jumped on an opportunity to offer my opinion. The magazine assigned a reporter, Ryan Patrick Smith, to write the retrospective, and we had a very nice chat. He has linked to his article in the constructor notes below.
Mr. Smith mentioned in passing that he was also constructing crosswords, and was excited to see his first puzzle published in The New York Times. And now we get to celebrate his debut.
My first impression when I saw his grid was that this was going to feel like four different puzzles because of the large, black square “plus sign” dividing the grid. I wasn’t wrong, but while I missed the long, luxurious entries in a more open themeless grid, his fill was very interesting. Not only did he debut five entries, but there was also something for everyone here.
The cluing, which might be mostly the puzzle editors’s work, is not only cranked up to offer a good tug-of-war between puzzle and solver, but hits a very satisfying variety of topics as well.
And that’s pretty much all a solver can ask for on a Friday, isn’t it?
1. The A.V. CLUB used to be a part of the humor newspaper (Hi, kids! Yes, it used to be in print) The Onion.
15A. TIL that Lt. SULU of “Star Trek” was named after the SULU Sea.
17A. The actress OLIVIA WILDE makes her New York Times Crossword full name debut, clued as the director of “Booksmart.”
20A. It would probably help to explain the plot of this movie. The 1940 film “REBECCA,” Alfred Hitchcock’s American directorial debut, is about the wives of the brooding widower, Maxim de Winter, played with suitably furrowed brow by Laurence Olivier. His first wife, REBECCA, has died before the film begins, but Mr. de Winter soon meets Joan Sutherland and she becomes his second wife, thereby earning the right to be called REBECCA as well. He eventually takes his new bride back to his windswept estate, REBECCA (pronounced Manderley), and introduces her to the foreboding housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who in all likelihood is also called REBECCA. Mrs. Danvers, driven to derangement by the fact that almost everyone in the movie is named REBECCA, sets fire to the estate, but everyone besides her escapes so that they can eventually name their children REBECCA.
21A. If you have not seen the web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” by ISSA RAE, you can watch Season 1 on YouTube.
25A. Fun fact: The word “clue” is derived from the Greek myth about Theseus and ARIADNE. Theseus had to make his way out of a complicated maze without being killed by the Minotaur, so ARIADNE, who was crushing on Theseus, gave him a ball of yarn — called a “clew” — to unravel as he traveled, so he would not get lost. The word “clew” eventually became “clue.”
45A. Nice wordplay. “Trips in the dark” could mean that you accidentally fall over something on your way to the bathroom or kitchen at night, or it could mean a trip you take when it’s dark out. If you are flying to a destination in the dark, you could be taking the REDEYE.
46A. “German marks” is not currency in this puzzle. They are diacritical marks, or, more specifically, UMLAUTS.
57A. You can make a pit stop (a “fast stop”), or you can do something to break a fast (“made a fast stop”). The answer is ATE.
60A. TIS the season to figure out that TIS can precede “the season.”
11D. THERESA MAY also makes her full name debut in the New York Times Crossword, but not for the same reason as OLIVIA WILDE.
25D. I was thinking about togas when I should have been thinking about APES. “Caesar” was a character from the “Planet of the Apes” reboot.
37D. Who knew? Apparently, the prime minister of Canada, Justin TRUDEAU, has worked at various times of his life as a bouncer and a snowboarding instructor.
38D. This sent me down a rabbit hole of research, first trying to remember their surnames (the Montagues and the Capulets, but that wasn’t right), even trying to remember the act or scene in which they died. Once again, I claim the award for most overthinking: The answer is TITULAR. The play is “Romeo and Juliet,” not “Romeo and Juliet and Mercutio and Tybalt.”
I’ve been a word nerd and puzzle junkie for most of my life, but my love of crosswords in particular blossomed when I was in high school. I fondly remember sitting in the kitchen with my mom and tackling the weekend grids on her clunky desktop, the clatter of the keyboard a satisfying soundtrack to my solving.
Wordplay veterans may remember me by my erstwhile forum handle “rpsmith” — I’ll always be grateful to this community for encouraging my passion. Outside the “crossworld,” I’m a voracious consumer of film and video games, as well as a writer for both Smithsonian.com (for which I recently wrote a piece on crosswords, as it happens) and the World Bank’s Connect4Climate division. I’m also starting to compete in screenwriting contests!
I had a number of puzzles published in The Stanford Daily during my time on The Farm (including cryptics, which I love), but this is my first submission to The Times that was accepted, and I’m over the moon to see it in print and online. I very nearly didn’t send in this puzzle at all, as I was coming off a sizable string of rejections and felt rather demoralized. So glad I gave it a shot!
It occurs to me now that the upper half of this puzzle is packed with nods to influential women whose domains range from international politics, acting and filmmaking to pages of fiction and mythology. I can’t say that this was strictly intentional on my end, but I’m delighted with the way it panned out.
I’m pleased to say I already have fresh grids in the submission pipeline, so with luck you’ll be seeing more of me before too long.
Happy solving, and a fine new year to all!
The Tipping Point
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