wordplay, the crossword column
Pao Roy offers a tricky puzzle that will raise your spirits.
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THURSDAY PUZZLE — If you are reading this after successfully solving this puzzle, congratulations. If you are coming here for some help, I don’t blame you at all.
This one is devious if you’ve never seen this sort of theme before. When I finally figured out the trick — after staring at my partially solved grid for quite a while — I smacked my forehead and groaned so loudly that I woke my dog up from her nap.
I love this sort of thing so much I’d be willing to have it injected into my veins via I.V. I realize that sounds dramatic but, as always, it’s a hint and not a spoiler.
Need another hint? I explain the theme down below. Sorry, I’ll stop now.
12A. And may it never calm down. The answer to “Wordle, e.g., in 2022” is CRAZE.
17A. I am a big fan of “Ranch dressing?” if we are talking about salads or dip for chicken wings, but in this puzzle we’re talking about CHAPS.
22A. Sometimes parsing a question mark clue is about deciding which of the words mean something other than what we assume. “Adding purpose?” is not about giving meaning to one’s life. In this puzzle, we’re trying to decide what the purpose of adding is, and that would be to come up with a SUM.
34A. My eyes lit up when I saw the clue “Hamilton producers?” because I am a huge fan of the show, but then I realized two fundamental things at the exact same time. First, it was not about the musical “Hamilton” because it didn’t have quotation marks around the title. Second, there was a question mark at the end of the clue.
That meant it was time to play our favorite game, “What Else Could It Mean?” Hamiltons are a nickname for $10 bills — and what produces them? We would have also accepted the word “mint,” but that’s not the answer. The correct answer is ATMS.
47A. The emoji clue :-O is a look of surprise, and the answer is textspeak: OMG.
60A. This one made me laugh. When I think of a “Mating call?” I think of animal vocalizations, such as bird song, or “Are you a loan? Because you’ve got my interest!” In this puzzle, however, we need to think about what chess players say when they have checkmated their opponents: I WIN.
Pao Roy, who uses they/them pronouns, offers a theme with many layers. They placed all of the theme entries in the Downs. These entries are common phrases that all contain the word “down.” The word “down” in each theme entry appears lower as you read from left to right.
And yet the word “down” never appears in their puzzle. How is that possible?
It’s possible with the same magic we all used in grade school to type “words” on our calculators using just the numbers. If you use your imagination, the letters I and V — when placed on top of each other — make a downward-pointing arrow, which stands in for the word “down.”
I’ll wait here while you slap yourself in the forehead.
This is why the answer to 1D, “Part of a sun salutation, in yoga,” is IVWARD FACING DOG. Put the I and the V together to make the down arrow and you have DOWNWARD FACING DOG.
Similarly, the answer to the clue “Handles discreetly” is KEEPS ON THE IV LOW, or KEEPS ON THE DOWN LOW.
This was enjoyable for a sophomore outing. It would have been more elegant had they been able to eliminate the other I’s and V’s from the grid, especially the unfortunate IVS entry at 19A that crossed the IV arrow of 4D. But these can be considered secondary to the cleverness of Mx. Roy’s theme.
In the planning stages of this puzzle, I knew that my perfectionist brain wanted the “down arrow” to make a perfect line across the grid, traveling down, from left to right. It would have been an added bonus to have the arrow start at the top of the grid and end at the very bottom.
My initial theme set was (DOWN)WARD FACING DOG, BRING (DOWN) THE HOUSE, WHOA SLOW (DOWN) THERE, and HONEY WE’RE GOIN’ (DOWN) (yes, the Fall Out Boy song). Eventually, I relaxed my criteria to change the trajectory of the line of arrows, which in turn yielded a more interesting set of theme entries, in my opinion. A special thanks to Matthew Stock, who helped talk me through a lot of this puzzle’s early decision-making.
With the unique constraints of the puzzle (all the annoying Vs being one of them), it made sense for me to work with horizontal mirror symmetry, which is my first time doing so. It was a personal choice to include grid art in the form of an “arrow-esque” set of black squares. It took a lot of time to make it work, but I felt that it was a nice enough aesthetic touch to make the extra effort worth it.
Clue writing is often my favorite part of the construction process, as it comes with hours of going down internet rabbit holes and making puns. Among my favorites were a trio of tricky two-worders: “Hamilton producers?” for ATMS, “Mating call?” for I WIN and “Adding purpose?” for SUM. To me, finding interesting cluing angles for mundane fill is the crossword equivalent of using high-quality salt or olive oil in a dish. These small upgrades can subtly elevate the whole meal, and set the table for other flavors to shine. Short clues can allow long ones to stand out, and I’m grateful the editors kept my favorite long clue: “Video game with a ‘rosebud’ cheat code that grants free money” for THE SIMS.
On that note, I want to give very special thanks to my mom and No. 1 fan in life, Georgina, who turns 60 this week. She and I used to abuse that “rosebud” cheat code when we first began playing “The Sims” together back in the early ’00s. Sadly, I imagine that cheat code is the reason I grew up believing owning a home would be so much more affordable …
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