The NYT Crossword “Hints, not spoilers” Blog

Many early week clue/answer combos are found in the words every puzzler should know  page (that page contains direct answers, of course).

I fell in love with crosswords because of Manny Nosowsky.  He’s the all-time “leading author” of NY Times Friday puzzles.  As you may know, the NY Times has an amazingly consistent daily structure over the course of each week.  The puzzles get progressively difficult up to Saturday.   Sunday is somewhat different animal:  much bigger, for one and always with a “theme,” a particular wordplay that permeates the puzzle.  Because it’s bigger, sometimes the theme answers are really long and cool, sometimes disappointing.   Most everybody, but geniuses or fools, starts by doing Mondays and maybe Tuesdays for a while, and filling in as much of Sunday as they have the time for.  Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and Sundays always have a theme, something that ties them together; almost always it’s a word play in the long answers.

Ah, but Thursday, there’s a puzzler’s reward for making it through the week!  The best themes, even better than most of the one’s on Sundays!  And often [drumroll] a trick!  (I’ve heard this called a “rebus” though that wasn’t what I thought a rebus was.)  Usually, it’s that one square has more than a single letter in it.  I recall a puzzle that used the symbol/letters for the four

And then there’s Friday.  Friday is a whole other Rubicon to cross.  A good Friday puzzle has barely a clue seen in the NYT before.  Emmett Quigley’s “hard” puzzles on his site are essentially Friday puzzles with a little more current (rap group names, current TV, slang) clues and occasionally racy language.  Friday puzzles can be memorable.  Saturdays are harder than Friday, but how hard it is depends somewhat on how many clues are in areas that aren’t in your world.

I learned on paper.  In fact, the NYT puzzle on my lap got me to and fro on the Long Island Railroad more hours than I care to admit.  But that moment when you go through a whole puzzle once and there’s barely a single answer you can put confidently on the paper.   And working through and over it gradually begin to fill in a few squares.  Maybe it even goes evenly forward for a while, only to seem to hit another cup de sac.  And a thought occurs to you and you can see it’s right and you’re going to have figured out the whole puzzle.  That’s a wonderful moment.

I occasionally look at Rex Parker’s NYT Crossword Blog, but usually don’t.  I did my own blog for a while, but Google wasn’t updating it often enough for people to see it, so it was too much work for nothin’.  The pleasure of doing the puzzles is enhanced, I think by a couple simple things.  So that’s what this is, a little “in case you didn’t consider this.”

1.  Do the puzzle the way you like.  Don’t let those who sneer at googling for answers get your goat.  It’s a way to learn.  But only go to that once you’ve done as much as you can without it.  Same goes with seeing if you’re correct (the “Check” option in Across Lite) or the “just tell me what the answer is” of “Reveal.”  Do what it takes to make solving fun.  I suggest not getting too hung up on how long it takes you to solve a puzzle.  Aren’t you doing this to relax, not to prove how smart (or how dumb) you are?

2.  Do try to memorize a few things, or make lists of them:  Frequent characters in the Simpson, Seinfeld, the Jewish months of the year (ADAR’s particularly common), extinct animals, higher ed degrees and professional associations (PHD, MBA, ABA, AMA, ADA, etc.).  It’s hopeless, of course, and really suggests you have way, way too much time on your hands, if you try to memorize a lot of stuff in an area you know nothing about.  (Rap stars definitely fall into this category for me!  Also anything with current television except Project Runway and sports.)   If it’s finite and frequent, like the nicknames of major league teams, yeah, then it’s worth getting a few in your memory band.  If it’s not or there’s no way it’s gonna stick, go on to something else.  There are always areas in puzzles that are easy for some and all but impossible for others.

3.  Try fixing in your mind one new word that shows up in each puzzle that you have a feeling might show up again.  If it’s really obscure, no use memorizing, you’ll probably never see it again.  That applies to a lot of the long phrases.  The NY Times very rarely repeats a long phrase it’s used before.

4.  They say that doing Xwords might prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  Seems unlikely, but it can’t hurt to exercise those little gray cells and it sure beats being bored.

For daily hints and tips: DrJ daily crossword blog


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