About Solving the New York Times Crossword Puzzle

From an Inside the Times story by Rachel Fabi headlined “A ‘Queen’ of the Crossword Reigns”:

MONDAY PUZZLE — Hello, solvers, and welcome back to another installment of the Monday Wordplay column, where we help you get to know the tips and tricks of the New York Times Crossword puzzle. Most new solvers know that Monday puzzles are the easiest of the week, but one feature with which new solvers might not yet be acquainted is the online crossword puzzle archive. It contains every puzzle published by the New York Times Crossword editor, Will Shortz, stretching all the way back to 1993.

If you’re just dipping your toe into the warm, inviting waters of the crossword, the archive is the perfect place to start. You can tackle as many Mondays as you like, learning to recognize the language of the puzzle, until you feel ready to try your hand at a Tuesday or Wednesday. And since there’s no limit on how many archive crosswords a Games subscriber can solve (unless you solve all 10,000+ puzzles!), you can attempt them whenever you wish.

And if you do take a deep dive into the archive, you’ll be sure to spot today’s constructor, Lynn Lempel, who is making her 98th appearance in the New York Times Crossword since her debut in 1979.

Ms. Lempel has sometimes been called the “Queen of the Mondays,” in part because the vast majority of her puzzles (71 of her 98, to date!) have fallen on a Monday. According to the New York Times associate crossword editor, Tracy Bennett: “Another reason Lynn Lempel has Monday royalty status is that she devises elegant themes and writes ‘just-right’ clues for the theme set and fill.” And elegance, Ms. Bennett notes, “is an achievement that takes as much finesse and care as a Thursday gimmick.”

All four theme entries are lively and evocative similes that neatly draw attention to the figurative language we use to compare humans and animals. What makes this puzzle’s theme “elegant” is the selection of the perfect set of four theme entries following the same pattern.

For instance, the first theme entry is DRINK LIKE A FISH (20A, “Imbibe copiously”). Ms. Bennett says the editorial team appreciated that “the phrases in this set feature an appealing variety of animals/habitats.” She adds that, unlike phrases such as “squeal like a pig,” the theme entries in Ms. Lempel’s puzzle “generally evoke imagery on the more human end of the metaphorical comparison (that is, you imagine a person doing the action more than the animal when you hear the phrase).”

Another example of this clever theme is the last entry in the puzzle, WATCH LIKE A HAWK (52A, “Observe intently”). As with the first entry, a solver is more apt to imagine a person intently observing than an actual hawk, despite the animal in the expression.

Monday puzzles tend to have fewer tricky clues, keeping them accessible to new solvers. Ms. Bennett says of Ms. Lempel’s clue writing: “Another point of elegance in Lynn’s puzzles is that she takes care to fill around the theme with accessible vocabulary that can have entertaining clues.” Some examples of easy yet entertaining clues include:

39A. “Yay! Tomorrow’s Saturday!” as the clue for T.G.I.F., short for “Thank God It’s Friday!” A clue in quotation marks, like this one, requires the solver to identify a conversational phrase that is the equivalent of the colloquial phrase in the clue. The contraction of “tomorrow is” into “tomorrow’s” may clue you in that the answer will also be shortened in some way. Of course, running such a clue seems almost cruel on a Monday, when we still have four days of the week to get through before Saturday!

22D./26D. Another entertaining clue pair from Ms. Lempel is the repetition of “Noisy scuffle” at both 22D and 26D, which are consecutive in the clue list. The answers here are FRAY and ROW, both of which are words for noisy scuffles.

53D. This one is perhaps less exciting, but it’s a good entry to file away for future solves. “Nonclerical, at a church” is the clue for LAIC, which has such a useful combination of letters that it’s likely to show up again soon — it has appeared previously 324 times!

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.

Rachel Fabi, Ph.D., is a long-time solver, constructor and reviewer of crossword puzzles. She writes the Monday-Wednesday daily Wordplay columns, helping new solvers improve their skills and commenting on the daily crossword.

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