I hope his work will inspire you to put on your very best Larry David voice, rub your chin, and deliver Mr. David’s highest form of 73D: “Ehhhh, that David Kwong. He’s a pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty clever guy.”
He’s so clever that you just might get fooled. Again. When you land upon the theme, it’s a blissful moment, so enjoy the rewards and realize there may be more beneath the surface than you expected. I won’t share everything.
Some solvers like to take on a grid one quadrant at a time. I usually start at the northwest corner and move across the top until I am stumped or obviously wrong, and then go down to see if I can detect my errors. Most of my first guesses were incorrect. At 19A, “One of Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters,’” I punched in MASHA. I didn’t know I was in trouble until I completed 23A, “Many apartments in old warehouse districts,” or LOFTS, which left nothing but nonsense on the northwest down answers. It was not MASHA, but IRINA who set the puzzle to rights.
At 25A, “Labor Day baby, e.g.,” I called out the clue to my husband, who does not love crosswords but is much better at solving than I am. He looked up in disbelief and said “UNION.” Ohhh. OK. How obvious. Right? Wrong! The context was astrological, and that baby is a VIRGO.
I thought of lovely old-fashioned soap advertisements when I read 57D: “Laundry soap since 1908.” I imagined IVORY FLAKES, FELS NAPTHA — no, only the most masochistic crossword constructor would employ a word so laden with consonants. The answer is the wonderfully retro-sounding RINSO, and it was a tough one to come by. The five-letter answer to 63A, “Legal,” which crosses RINSO, could so easily be LEGIT. But that would render 58D, “___, all ye faithful,” impossible. That’s because the answer to 63A was the unexpected LICIT.
A Few Fave Clues
67A calls for “Cool in old slang.” I thought cool was old slang. But the word required is HEP, like those cool hep cats at Beat poetry readings who applauded by snapping their fingers.
74A: “Muscular,” with a B in the first position. So then BURLY? Maybe? Or is that more Burl Ives than Charles Atlas? BUILT it is!
99A: “Tree alternative.” How many letters? Yikes. HYDRANGEA PANICULATA, maybe? I may have to release Caitlin Lovinger, your usual Wordplay weekend columnist, from my trunk, if only to summon her vast botanical wisdom. Bwah, ha, ha, ha! But seriously, this is the clue that eventually revealed the theme to me, when, after exhausting various kinds of shrubberies, fences and bamboos, I resorted to solving via the crosses, and gradually the word took shape: INTERCONTINENTAL. When is an INTERCONTINENTAL a tree alternative? When that tree is a Doubletree! The “double” remains invisible, which is what you might expect from a constructor with his illusionist credentials.
123A: “___ and curl (salon treatment)” befuddled me, and the confusion continued even after I had the answer: PRESS. Pressing and curling I knew from the gym, but not in the salon context. This double-step vintage styling technique for Black hair could sometimes damage one’s crowning glory, even while transforming it. Now, with new hair products, the silk press has made a 21st-century comeback. Several bloggers who had experienced the old-school version had memories of being a fidgety little girl, sometimes with a slightly singed ear, getting ready for a special occasion.
77A: “Play combo of old.” How ever to interpret this? Two one-acts that were traditionally staged together? An imperative to spin some 78s featuring an old jazz ensemble? Perhaps a game children played once upon a time with hoops and sticks? Or not. This answer, solved on the crosses with a couple of lucky guesses was TINKER TO EVERS TO CHANCE. Not because he is male but because much of his career has been devoted to sports journalism, my husband, Craig, knew this one. “It was the Cubs,” he said (though there is some debate about whether the team had formally adopted the name yet). So down the baseball rabbit hole I went to learn that the combo, in keeping with our theme, was synonymous with smoothly executed double plays and that the exploits of these teammates had been immortalized by Franklin Pierce Adams, a Giants fan, in the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” more than a century ago.
At which point we might as well continue with baseball, even in this sad season of cardboard cutouts. 22A: “Result, maybe, in brief.” I arrived at the answer, RBI, because it has appeared in puzzles in The Times on no less than 260 occasions, but it made no sense. Not until I imagined the word “double” at the front of the clue. So an RBI could be the result of a double, as popularized by Tinker, and so on.
86A: “Subject of Newton’s first law of motion” is a clue perfect for those of us hibernating the summer away in one long Zoom meeting from our sofa workplaces. You know this one: “An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.” INERTIA! But, wait. They changed the wording. “They” have changed so many truths. Say you had five cookies and you divided them by zero people, how many cookies would you have? Five! No sharing! Yay! But go to your calculator app and try 5÷0= and see what you get. Report your answers and theories in the Comments section.
One of the most important answers almost eluded me because I kept stumbling over the way it was presented — 33A, “07 film” — instead of yielding to the instinct that something special was going on. Knowing Times style, I was puzzled by the rendering of what I assumed to be a reference to a 2007 film. If there had been a good reason to leave off the 20, the editors would have used ’07, to indicate the missing numerals. I was off by 40 years. The clue was the revealer and the film in question was “You Only Live Twice,” with Sean Connery starring as (Double) 07.
37D: “Relating to egg cells,” had me engaging in alphabetic acrobatics. OOCYTIC? ZYGOTIC? MEIOTIC? Nope. Just OVULAR.
As always, you first see a clue based on your frame of reference. That’s why it took me so long to get 87D: “Not much at all.” A TRIFLE should be a luscious, layered dessert. The same for 68A, “The way things are currently going …,” which is simply AS IS. To me, however, AS IS would be the shadowy section of the store I dart back to in search of gently dented treasures. So, when you are solving, consider other points of view, but don’t lose your perspective. And heed what Mr. Kwong says below. There may be something here we haven’t discovered yet. Could it have something to do with TOM FORD (6D, “American fashion designer who once served as the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent”)? He doesn’t quite fit the invisible double we might assume is hiding in the clue. The fashion jobs are a double. And he directed that poignant film “A Single Man.” Any ideas?
Hello Crosswordverse! So nice to be back in glossy print! This was a puzzle many years in the making. It goes to show that if you have a solid concept, you can scrap the grid, start over and create a new version that works. Quite excited for you all to solve it!
My favorite type of puzzle to construct is the kind where I have to mind the numbers of the clues. This grid was incredibly difficult to construct! You can imagine that sticking in one black square changes, like dominoes falling, all the numbers after it. But in the end, I managed to get “double” numbers at the beginning of four long answers and five smaller ones. Phew! That was a workout (and my exercise for the year). Also, did you spot the twist? There’s one more tricky clue in this puzzle … remember, I’m a magician!
And speaking of chicanery, I have a brand-new virtual show premiering in a few weeks. It’s called “Inside the Box,” and it will be presented through the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. With “Inside the Box,” I’m excited to bring games, wordplay, and mystery into your home through virtual puzzles. And of course there will be twists and turns and surprises along the way. So put on your thinking caps, grab the whole family and join the puzzle party!
Staring at Empty Boxes?
Lean on us. We’re here for you.
For subscribers who don’t mind spoilers, take a peek at the answer key.
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