wordplay, the crossword column
Dan Schoenholz’s puzzle is a job well done.
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TUESDAY PUZZLE — Some crossword constructors really excel at themeless puzzles, which typically run on Fridays and Saturdays. These puzzle makers focus on long entries that are fresh and exciting, and they emphasize cluing. For other constructors, the driving force behind their grids is an uncanny ability to generate clever wordplay-based themes and theme sets.
Based on his record, I might have guessed that Dan Schoenholz, the maker of today’s puzzle, is the latter variety of crossword constructor. This is Mr. Schoenholz’s 27th appearance in the New York Times Crossword, and every previous puzzle has fallen on a theme day (Sunday through Thursday), with nary a one on Friday or Saturday. Even so, this puzzle from Mr. Schoenholz incorporates fun long entries and engaging clues that would not be out of place in a themeless puzzle. Talk about versatility!
16A. The wording of this clue — “They’re long for an underdog” — is a little deceptive: “they” refers to the entry itself. Underdogs are not favored to win, so they face long ODDS.
34A. I enjoyed the clue “End of a hairy limb” because it conjured up an image of a hobbit’s foot. But we were looking for PAW, the end of an animal’s hairy limb.
42A. When a clue ends with a word in parentheses, it’s telling you that you have to add that word to the end of the entry in order to make its meaning match the clue’s. In this case, “Have ambitions (to)” means the same as “ASPIRE (to).”
57A. “Story of one’s life?” is a wordplay clue for OBIT, short for OBITuary, which tells the story of one’s life after one passes away.
64A. SERA is the plural form of “serum,” so “Some lab liquids” are SERA.
3D. This is a fun little retronym! “Encyclopedia volumes vis-à-vis Wikipedia, e.g.” are OLD MEDIA, a term for things that, before the coinage of “new media,” would have just been called “media.”
10D. “Driving force?” is a wordplay clue for ENGINE because a car’s ENGINE produces the force needed for driving.
29D. I was tripped up by the clue “Works in a theater,” reading “works” as a verb and thinking that “works in a theater” could be a clue for “acts” or “directs.” Instead, “works” refers to the materials performed in theaters, which could be PLAYS.
43D. Shout-out to my day-job employer! The “Sch. system with campuses in Buffalo and Binghamton” is SUNY, short for the State University of New York.
This puzzle features four long theme entries (of lengths 13, 14, 14 and 13) that are all job titles with punny clues. The first of these, at 19A, is METEOROLOGIST, which receives the excellent clue “Temp job?” — a reference to a METEOROLOGIST’s role in forecasting the temperature. The other three theme entries have similar clue structures (see “Union job?” at 27A and “Dream job?” at 51A).
The one theme entry that might require a bit more explanation is YOGA INSTRUCTOR, with “Flex job?” as the clue. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered “flex job” in the wild the way you might see a reference to a “dream job” or a “temp job,” but I infer that it means a job with flexible hours, which seems totally reasonable to me.
Additionally, a YOGA INSTRUCTOR is certainly a flexible person, but not necessarily a flex person, so when I came across this clue I thought it might be referring to a BODYBUILDER or some other profession that involves flexing. Alternatively, I thought it might be a NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR, because we refer to the people who edit this column as “Flex editors” (hi, Flex team!). In any case, even though YOGA INSTRUCTOR felt like a slight outlier, the theme is lively, and the clues and fill are fun and engaging.
I spent a little time trying to come up with some other possible theme clues and entries, and my favorite is “Paint job?” for MAKEUP ARTIST. You can add your own suggestions in the comments — extra points if you come up with a good clue for CROSSWORD CONSTRUCTOR.
Thank you to Mr. Schoenholz for this light Tuesday diversion and the excuse to put a cute skunk at the top of the column!
I think this is the first puzzle I’ve constructed where the wordplay is in the clues. It was a fun change of pace for me. Hopefully solvers enjoy it as well!
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