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Adam Wagner’s puzzle will pull you in.
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TUESDAY PUZZLE — I am delighted to welcome Adam Wagner back to the New York Times Crossword for his seventh appearance in just under a year — that’s a pretty impressive track record! Mr. Wagner’s puzzles never fail to make me smile, and there’s always something fresh or novel about them.
Some crossword theme types come up all the time, without much variation on their classic form. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — those theme types are classics for a reason! But Mr. Wagner’s puzzles always contain a little innovation. He pushes beyond the tried-and-true wordplay mechanisms, creating a puzzle with a modern feel, one certainly not made by a Tyrannosaurus rex! (Although can you imagine how fun a puzzle made by a T. rex would be? I’d solve that.)
Before we get to today’s visually interesting and novel theme, however, let’s take a look at some of the tougher clues in this puzzle.
1A. “Prepared, with ‘up’” is the clue for GEARED. In preparation for a weeklong backpacking trip, you might have GEARED up with literal gear. Or in preparing yourself for an emotionally challenging event, you might have GEARED up psychologically.
19A. A question mark indicates a pun, and with the clue “Puddle-jumper?” the reference is not to a plane that flies a short distance but to a FROG that might jump in a puddle.
25A. “Unquestioning followers, in slang” is the clue for the portmanteau SHEEPLE, which you get by combining “sheep” and “people.”
27A. The “First three words famously said by Kamala Harris to Joe Biden upon winning the 2020 election” are WE DID IT, as seen here.
35A. I love the conversational clue “Am I the problem here?” for the equally conversational “IS IT ME?” I can just picture someone reacting to an awkward moment that she unwittingly caused by looking around and asking “IS IT ME?!”
36A. As much as I love the clue for IS IT ME, I think I can safely predict that “Sound likely not made by a Tyrannosaurus rex, despite what ‘Jurassic Park’ would have you believe” will be my favorite clue of the week. Although the T. rexes in “Jurassic Park” all seem to ROAR with no issue, scientists believe the sounds they actually made were quite different.
52A. “Gentleman: Sp.” has a language indicator (“Sp.”) letting you know that the answer will be Spanish for “gentleman.” I didn’t know this one off the top of my head, but I inferred that it must be HIDALGO based on my limited knowledge of the 2004 Viggo Mortensen film “Hidalgo.”
12D. Another close runner-up for clue of the week might be “Places where you might find okapis and gnus (besides crossword puzzles!)” for ZOOS. It’s so delightfully meta! I definitely notice that okapis and gnus appear far more often in crossword puzzles than in my daily life, but perhaps that would be less true if I worked at a zoo.
63D. Pairing the symbol “@” (pronounced “at”) with someone’s online profile name is to tag them in a conversation on social media, so to “@, as a verb” is to TAG.
If you’re solving online, you probably noticed the two red-and-white horseshoe MAGNETs in the grid overlaid atop the U-shaped black square configurations. If you’re solving on paper, you had no such visual aids, but hopefully the magnetic properties of those U’s became clear fairly early on in your solve when you saw the repetition of a particular word across the grid.
These two magnetic blocks, one pointing up and one pointing down, are holding on to bits of IRON on each of their poles, for a total of four IRON entries: IRON FILING, IRON MAIDEN, PUMPED IRON and WAFFLE IRON. This is a cute visual, which is amplified by one additional layer to the puzzle: Inside each of the U magnets is a circled letter, F and E, forming the chemical symbol for iron, FE.
I think this is a delightfully fun and science-y early-week puzzle, but Mr. Wagner actually had a much trickier puzzle in mind when he designed it — see his notes below for an explanation of his original execution of this theme.
Today’s theme was inspired by a scene from the 2003 superhero smash “X2: X-Men United,” in which Magneto escapes from his plastic prison by extracting an iron supplement from a prison guard’s blood stream. The original idea was that the magnets in the grid were so powerful that they were pulling the letters I, R, O and N out of the theme clues … like this:
9D: D_d CP_ __, say
10D: _ce c_eam c__e type
28D Del_ve_y _f tax payme_t
29D F__st, t_ a seama_
So you’d have to suss out that those clues were for the base words, PUMPED, WAFFLE, FILING, MAIDEN … and then tack on the ‘extracted’ IRON letters in the grid, stuck to the magnets.
Ultimately, the editors felt the quadruple dupe (qupe?) of IRON was too easy for such a late-week cluing gimmick (and I don’t disagree), so it’d be better to just clue the theme entries straight and run it earlier on. That said, I’m still proud enough of this weird little idea to talk about it here!
A few other random thoughts:
• App/web solvers get a bonus grid art treat today. But paper solvers of my last puzzle got to physically cross their I’s into T’s in the clues with their pens/pencils. So we’re even.
• Making the magnets fully free floating forced a grid with lots of mid-length fill. That, plus my original intent for this to run later in the week, is why you’ve got trickier stuff like SESTET and HIDALGO in there on a Tuesday.
• I’m grateful that the editors kept my original cluing angles at 27A, 41A, 12D and 56D.
• Thrilled to have worked in an anagram of my son Miko’s name at 57A.
And as always, if you want to commend, complain or collaborate, my DMs are always open.
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