wordplay, the crossword column
Max Chen Lauring hides something valuable in his puzzle.
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THURSDAY PUZZLE — Update: I mentioned below that the clues that contain dashes instead of text are not numbered in the grid. That is true for the web version of the puzzle that I solve, but not the app version. My guess is that the app has limitations on how these clues can be presented. Sorry if I misled anyone.
Max Chen Lauring returns to the New York Times Crossword roster with his third puzzle, and, thankfully, I was able to solve it before things got too dark.
As always, that is a hint but not a spoiler. Welcome back, Mr. Lauring.
19A. Does EFTS count as crosswordese? Yes, I think so. They have appeared in the New York Times Crossword a lot: 205 times as a plural and 191 times as the singular “eft.” And you don’t hear people talk much about EFTS outside of crossword puzzle solving. That’s not a terrible thing, mind you. Sometimes crosswordese can help a constructor out of a tight spot, and I’m willing to overlook it as long as there is not a lot of it in the grid. Mr. Lauring’s puzzle does have GAR, ERNE and others, but I am chalking those up to the constraints placed by the theme on the fill.
39A. I thought that the answer to “One requested by disgruntled customers: Abbr.” might be “refund” or “discount,” but I couldn’t think of a good abbreviation for either of them. Turns out this customer wants to speak to a MGR.
43A. A GAR is a fish with a long snout, and I know that only because I solve crossword puzzles. That entry has been in the New York Times Crossword 226 times and is also known as a needlefish.
50A. THANOS, the infamous warlord in the Marvel universe, makes his New York Times Crossword debut.
4D. The phrase SAYS UNCLE has appeared in the Crossword only once, and that was in 1968. Welcome back, SAYS UNCLE. The phrase SAY UNCLE, on the other hand, has appeared in the Crossword and other Variety puzzles three times, most recently in 2006. I am writing this on Tuesday, and I came very close to saying uncle on today’s Wordle.
13D. The aria “NESSUN DORMA,” from Puccini’s “Turandot,” makes its full-name debut in this puzzle. You have heard this aria if you are an opera fan or an aficionado of late-night K-tel music-compilation commercials from the 1970s.
18D. I am an old, so I have never texted the word “SIKE!” to anyone,. but it is a thing. It is an alternate spelling of “Psych!” as in “Only joking!” Here is an example of the proper usage of SIKE in a sentence.
32D. Today I Learned (TIL) that avocados do not RIPEN until they are picked. After that, it is apparently every avocado for itself in a high-speed race to the death because an avocado bought at the supermarket can ripen to brown mush in less time than it takes to drive home. Therefore, I propose that — for the kind of money they charge — orchards just ship the whole damn tree and let us fend for ourselves. Once again, thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
38D. This is a very clever clue. At first, I thought this might be a legal clue because of the word “brief.” In this case, however, “brief” is an indicator for an abbreviation, and “Brief second?” is asking for the shortened version of someone who is second in command. That would be an assistant, or ASST.
I’d like to open today’s theme discussion with this hint from the singer Bill Withers:
Got that? There ain’t no sunshine in Mr. Lauring’s grid. Well, there is, but you are going to have to wait until it comes out again.
A SOLAR ECLIPSE (split between 30D and 41A) is occurring, which means that the SUN is hiding behind black squares in four places in the puzzle. This represents the SUN going dark.
For example, solvers must imagine that the word SUN is inside the black square at the crossing of 4D and 20A in order to complete the answers SAYS UNCLE and MISS UNIVERSE.
Some people like this type of theme, while some feel frustrated by having to keep track of invisible answers. I solve online, so I can’t write in the word SUN to help me. So, the puzzle could seem harder than it really is, but I’m up for the challenge and so are you. Trust me, I’m a columnist.
You’ve probably noticed that some of the clues are nothing but dashes, and the entries for those clues are not numbered. Those are not production errors. The dashes represent the end of the entry after we’ve added the SUN back to the entry on the other side of it.
Let’s take a look at 20A. The clue for that supposed three-letter entry is “Annual pageant winner.” I can’t think of a title that is only three letters long. Can you? There has to be more to it.
On the other side of the black square, after that three-letter slot, is an unnumbered entry with a dash for a clue. I was able to get IVERSE from the crossings, but that’s not a thing unless Apple has started writing poetry.
What if that SOLAR ECLIPSE has hidden the SUN in the entry? If we add it back in, we get MISS UNIVERSE, which makes a lot more sense.
I’m excited for my New York Times Crossword Thursday debut! First, I’d like to give a big shout out to Tracy Gray and Loren Muse Smith’s 2017 puzzle, from which I heavily drew inspiration (standing on the shoulders of giants).
I enjoy puzzles that take advantage of the online solving experience (like this past Sunday’s Easter egg hunt puzzle on The New York Times’s crossword app that transformed EGG rebuses into images of colorful eggs). So when I thought of this theme, I imagined how cool it’d be for certain black squares to eclipse the SUN and then disappear to reveal the SUN rebuses. I’m not an astronomy buff, so I had to constantly look at this image to remember how a solar eclipse actually worked.
I created a list of probably 50 or more theme answers, many of which didn’t make the cut, including: SAMSUNG GALAXY, EASTER SUNDAY, E PLURIBUS UNUM, MENS UNDERWEAR, LETS UNPACK THAT and COMES UNDER FIRE. The grid constraints were pretty difficult. I spent days trying to create a grid where the SUN rebuses were scattered randomly — I even created 16×15 and 16×16 versions, too — but ultimately found that a 15×15 grid with symmetrical rebus squares yielded much cleaner results.
Even though this is your typical weekday rebus puzzle, I hope solvers still have a pleasant “aha” moment. Thanks to Will Shortz and the editing team for their thorough — and I mean thorough — suggestions that helped improve this puzzle.
The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.
For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”
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.