wordplay, the crossword column
Li Ding’s puzzle will bring you back to the cafeteria.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
MONDAY PUZZLE — Congratulations to the constructor Li Ding, who is making his New York Times Crossword debut with this silly, delicious puzzle.
Regular readers of this column know that I try to tie the clue I use as the headline to the content of the column. The clue that jumped out at me today (5D. “Where Wizards play with Magic, in brief”) was too perfect to pass up, but there was no way to link it back to tips and tricks for solving crossword puzzles. Or is there? OK, stay with me here:
Crossword constructors are kind of like wizards, right? I mean, they take a 15 x 15 grid and, through some sort of magic, transform it into a little capsule of wit and trivia for us, the solvers, to experience. Is that a stretch? Maybe. Do I regret my choice of headline? Absolutely not.
Let’s unpack some of the more magical clues from today’s wizard, Mr. Ding.
42A. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone say this particular “Humble reply to ‘Nice job!’” but it does show up in the Times crossword from time to time (24 times since 2001, to be precise). I think if someone actually said “I TRY” in response to “Nice job!” I’d be so taken aback to encounter it outside the crossword that I wouldn’t even notice its hint of false modesty.
54A. Ah, the REBUS, the bane of crossword solvers everywhere. Oh, wait, not that kind of REBUS! Today we are talking about the “Puzzle type with pictures” that you might find, for instance, under a Natty Boh bottle cap or on a Narragansett beer coaster. These puzzles are solved by combining pictures and letters to spell (or sound) out a phrase.
63A. Don’t send angry letters to our puzzle editors; there’s no typo here. “Bacon or Hamm, e.g.” is not a clue for “pork” or “breakfast side” but for ACTOR, as in the actors Kevin Bacon and Jon Hamm.
5D. As I said above, we can put this one down as my favorite clue of the day (and, even though it’s only Monday, maybe my favorite clue of the week). “Where Wizards play with Magic, in brief” is a whimsical, hilarious clue for NBA (the league in which the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic play basketball).
43D. Did anyone else become stuck thinking that “Something that may be golden or broken” could be “rice” (which obviously did not fit)? Golden rice and broken rice definitely exist, but instead we were looking for SILENCE (as in “SILENCE is golden” or “the SILENCE was broken by the sound of my cat informing me his dish was empty”).
This puzzle features three “military leaders” who each happen to be closely associated with foods, and a revealer that suggests that when these leaders meet, they’re going to throw down in a FOOD FIGHT (36A. “Type of battle that 17-, 26-/49- and 60-Across might be engaged in?”).
The first leader we encounter is GENERAL TSO (“Military leader who lends his name to a Chinese dish”). I had always wondered about the real-life GENERAL TSO, of the famed Chinese American dish GENERAL TSO’s chicken. I’m grateful to Mr. Ding for the opportunity to do a little research. It seems GENERAL TSO (full name: Tso Tsung-t’ang) was a Hunanese general in the 19th century, but the dish was created by the chef Peng Chang-kuei in the 1950s. For the full story, check out this NPR article.
Our second leader has his name split across two entries (“With 49-Across, the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken”): COLONEL / SANDERS. Unlike GENERAL TSO, however, the real COLONEL SANDERS was not a military leader (though he did serve in the military). The rank of COLONEL was an honorary one bestowed on him by the governor of Kentucky in 1935.
The final leader in this three-way FOOD FIGHT is CAP’N CRUNCH (60A. “Cereal mascot in a naval uniform”), whose full name, I recently learned, is CAP’N Horatio Magellan CRUNCH, CAP’N of the S.S. Guppy. Apparently, it was quite the scandal when it was revealed that CAP’N CRUNCH might not, in fact, be a real CAP’N.
Whatever his actual rank, the cartoon CAP’N rounds out our trio of leaders waging this epic FOOD FIGHT at the center of this puzzle. My money is on GENERAL TSO. Congratulations to Mr. Ding on this delightful Monday offering.
Excited to be making my New York Times Crossword debut! A little about me: I grew up in Denver, graduated from Duke University and currently live in New York City. I’ve been a fan of puzzles (à la Martin Gardner) and word games (anybody else remember Yahoo’s Word Racer?) since childhood. I’m grateful for the chance to share a puzzle of my own creation with you all.
This crossword sprouted from the fun mental imagery of GENERAL TSO and COLONEL SANDERS pitted against each other in a poultry-based battle for dominance. After scouring Wikipedia for more food-related individuals, CAP’N CRUNCH arrived with naval support (though it’s lost to history which side he fought on), and the FOOD FIGHT revealer came to mind soon after.
Many thanks to Alex, Matthew, Tom and Ann for their test-solves and feedback, and a big shout out to my girlfriend Steph who happily accepted “brainstorming clues for a crossword puzzle” as a date-night activity.
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.