wordplay, the crossword column
Olivia Mitra Framke’s puzzle strikes a chord.
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TUESDAY PUZZLE — Congratulations to the constructor Olivia Mitra Framke, who is making her 10th appearance in the New York Times Crossword! At 1A, Ms. Framke urges us all to get in the game, a suggestion that I took to heart during my solve.
There is some semantic disagreement, in the world of crosswords, over whether or not the crossword puzzle is a “game” that one “plays.” For instance, when you solve in the online interface, hovering over the icon for the daily puzzle gives you the option of clicking in to “play” the crossword. I generally prefer to say that I “solve” rather than “play” the crossword, but you’ll get no argument from me if you insist that the puzzle is a game. It has rules, you can “win” or “lose,” and it’s fun! Those all strike me as qualities of a game. So although I don’t generally say I “play” the crossword, I can’t take issue with those who do! I’d love to hear what other solvers think about this in the comments.
1A. “Get in the game?” is a wordplay clue for ANTE (note the question mark!). Rather than referring to the expression, “Get in the game!” — meaning, “Focus!” — this clue is actually about how one might literally get into a poker game: by ANTEing.
5A. I knew that Asterix and Obelix were characters in a French comic strip but, having never read the comic, I didn’t realize it was set before France was France. “Home of the comics heroes Asterix and Obelix” is apparently ancient GAUL.
20A. Clues with ellipses, like this one, are actually two clues in one. “Bud … or bait” is offering two possible clues for the word CHUM, which can be a buddy or the bait used for sharks and other fish.
27A. When a clue is in brackets, as we see with: “[A spider!],” we know that the answer is probably not a real word, but rather a sound or a gesture. In this case, the sound EEK might mean “a spider!!!” if made while pointing at or otherwise reacting to its unexpected appearance.
42A. We’ve got another ellipsis clue here: “Place for a fork … or a jackknife?” A fork in the ROAD is certainly something I know about, but I had never encountered this meaning of the word “jackknife.” Apparently, when a semitrailer’s cab swings out at an acute angle from its trailer, it’s called “jackknifing.” This sounds really scary!
1D. “Took home a ‘furever friend,’ say” is the clue for ADOPTED. Thank you to Ms. Framke for this excuse to use a photo of some of the adoptable puppies featured in the Puppy Bowl.
8D. I appreciate the honesty of the clue “Response to a funny text (that usually isn’t literally true)” for LOL, which, in internet speak, means “laughing out loud.” It’s true — generally when I respond to a text with LOL, I’m not literally laughing out loud. I feel seen.
51D. This one may be tough! “Attempting to, casually” is the clue for TRYNA, which is how one might pronounce the words “trying to” casually (as in, “I’m TRYNA explain the meaning of this entry”).
It had never occurred to me that there are so many possible meanings of the word “strike!” Ms. Framke has identified five things that might “strike” (or be struck), and turned the last of these into a bit of a meta-revealer about both the theme and the process of solving a crossword puzzle.
The first of these is BOWLING BALL, which comes in at 16A (“What might be rolled for a strike”). The italicized clue lets the solver know without a doubt that this is one of the theme entries, but with just one to go on, I didn’t know what to make of it. I caught on pretty quickly, though, when I encountered the second theme entry at 25A, and by the third strike at 37A (“What might strike during a storm” for LIGHTNING) there was no doubt that we are looking at a striking theme. The revealer, which ties a nice bow on the set, is INSPIRATION (62A, “What might strike you while solving this puzzle”).
The set of theme entries is vivid and varied, although one might quibble that MIDNIGHT (25A, “What a clock might strike”) is a bit of an outlier because, unlike the other theme entries, it is struck rather than the thing that is doing the striking. This didn’t affect my solve in any way, and I love the mental image of a clock striking MIDNIGHT, so this slight inconsistency doesn’t trouble me. I challenge readers to suggest more possible theme entries that are things that might strike and suggest them in the comments.
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