wordplay, the crossword column
Simon Marotte’s puzzle is a (head)banger.
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TUESDAY PUZZLE — Happy Tuesday, solvers! Today’s puzzle is from the constructor Simon Marotte, who is making his third appearance in the New York Times Crossword. This puzzle is oriented a little differently from your typical Tuesday (more on that below), which may affect the way you move through the grid. It certainly affected my solve — in the best way. I love when constructors play with conventions to make me approach a puzzle in a new way.
While moving through this grid, I noticed one other thing: I recognized the names of all but one of the people in the clues and entries. That’s unusual for me! I’m not bad at trivia, but crosswords often feature the names of baseball players (or at today’s 51D, golfers) whom I simply don’t know. I don’t mind when that happens — encountering names in a puzzle is a good way to learn about people I might never have known. But it does feel nice to look at a clue and not have to ask, “Who goes there?!”
If you do find yourself stumbling over unfamiliar names while solving, I recommend looking at the crossing clues before moving on. Editors work hard to ensure names that solvers might not have seen before have fair, gettable entries crossing them, so there’s a good chance that you’ll fill in a letter or two from those that cross the unknown name. Fair crossings help constructors bring people who may not be considered sufficiently “common knowledge” into the public consciousness. In my view, that’s how names become common knowledge!
16A. Question marks in crossword clues indicate wordplay or puns — in this case, “Judicial cover-up?” is not some sneaky, underhanded plot to cover up a judge’s misdeeds but a garment that a judge might wear to cover up: a ROBE.
18A. Isn’t a MAN HUG (“Bros’ embrace”) just … a hug?
31A. Another question mark means another pun — the “Filling station?” mentioned in this clue is not a gas station but a TOOTH, where one might have a filling.
40A. OK, this isn’t actually a tricky clue, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the video of TOM Holland (“Actor Holland of ‘Spider-Man’ films”) performing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on the TV show “Lip Sync Battle.” It is truly a work of art.
8D. “Impolite sounds at the dinner table” are SLURPS, but I understand this to be culture-specific, and that some cultures consider it polite to slurp one’s food.
10D. Clues in quotation marks are usually conversational or colloquial phrases that require the solver to identify an equivalent phrase. In this puzzle, the sarcastic phrase “Oh sure, that’ll totally happen!” is the clue for DREAM ON, as both are meant to say, “That’ll never happen.”
Mr. Marotte has created a rare themed puzzle in which the theme entries are found in the Down answers rather than the Across ones. This is a necessary component of the theme, the revealer for which can be found at 11D: “All-time low … or a musical hint to the answers to this puzzle’s starred clues.” The answer here is ROCK BOTTOM, and the four starred theme entries are all common terms with a ROCK band at the BOTTOM.
The first one I encountered is at 5D (“Trixie Mattel, e.g.”). As a huge fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Trixie Mattel, I knew immediately that this was DRAG QUEEN. Because the theme entries are vertical, the name of the band QUEEN is at the bottom of this entry — it is a ROCK BOTTOM.
The other three theme entries follow this pattern, in which a common term with the name of a ROCK band as its second word is placed in a Down slot, putting that ROCK band at the BOTTOM. My favorite of the other three is probably AIR KISS (“Contact-free smooch”) at 25D.
This is a fun, simple theme that is beautifully executed, with smooth fill and solid clues. Not a bad way to start your Tuesday! If you can think of more common two-word phrases with ROCK bands in the second position, let us know in the comments.
I hope you enjoy solving this puzzle as much as I did making it! This one’s dedicated to my siblings, Ethan and Olivia, who are twins and who are celebrating their 20th birthday today! Love you guys.
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.”
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