Something a little different for today’s hints and tips: Each hint or tip as I go through the puzzle. I’m going through in my usual way: Doing all the acrosses first and then the down clues rather than solving an area of the puzzle at a time. But first, a quick look at all the clues to see if there’s a hint at the the “theme” (In case you’re new to NYT puzzles: Monday through Thursday NYT puzzles have a particular wordplay that the long answers have in common. Occasionally, a different means is used to identify the theme answers. Yesterday’s puzzle used asterisks, for example.)
The first long answer (17-Across, Coming on to a patient, perhaps?) ends in a question mark. This tells it’s some kind of joke, usually a pun. So the answer is a phrase that’s commonly used with a completely different meaning from the clue that’s given. 36-Across “Dictator’s directive at a dance club?” and 59-Across “Strive for medium quality on this one”? fit this same pattern. It’s rare that you can guess these right off. I suggest a once-through of all the clues before zeroing in on the theme answers. (21-Across and 55-Across are also theme answers. Note that the long Down clues are not theme clues.)
Going through the puzzle filling in what we can guess quickly:
1-Across Muscles strengthened by squats: Here’s one where it’s safe to conclude this plural will end in “S”. Probably true of 6-Across also, but if you know the word Shul,you should get the answer quickly, otherwise, put in the S and move on. 10-Across “Easy to spread cheese”: French cheese that comes from a large wheel and sounds like a character in Desperate Housewives.
15-Across “Don’t worry about me”: If you remember Eric Berne, then you know the answer to this one. If you don’t, think of how much can be squeezed into four letters if you work at it.
29-Across Cyberspace ‘zine: Remember NYT #1 rule: The form of the clue matches the form of the answer. ‘zine is internet slang; so is the answer.
31-Across Less-than sign’s key mate: Go ahead, peak at your keyboard, you know you want to!
34-Across “Make my ______!”: He was so much more fun when he was blowing people’s heads off instead of talking to a chair!
42-Across Seek pocket change, say: Dogs do this also; Cats just make a nuisance of themselves until you give them what they want.
44-Across Close to closed: When a door isn’t?
64-Across Cheese that doesn’t spoil: Really? Never? Must be the red wrapper.
67-Across Idiot: …or 48-Across, to some
Enough acrosses, on to the downs:
1-Down Proof letters: No, not VSO, like Brandy, think geometry, not booze
2.-Down Area 51 letters, supposedly: What’s he mean, “supposedly,” why I read about ’em when I’m on line at the supermarket every day!
8-Down “Hit the jackpot”: 2 words
After you’ve gotten through 9-Down, check out 17-Across, the first theme clue. Can you guess it? If so, you can imagine the others are going to work pretty much the same way. It’s a very familiar phrase (name of a film featuring a “shaken, not stirred” martini drinker) plus a couple predictable letters.
24-Nat or Natalie: Or that “Merry old soul”
36-Across Theme clue: Dictator’s directive at a dance club?: Wait a minute, isn’t this what one says to a dictator, not what the dictator says???
48-Down Amnesiac’s question: Only 6 letters, but 3 words.
And in case the bottom right is giving you fits because you’ve forgotten of the Hades river of forgetfulness and don’t know what a muslim woman’s veil is called, so their point of intersection is killin’ ya: The river sounds like someone with a lisp. A Spanish eye’s middle letter isn’t H even though it sounds like one. And the things Geisha’s wear sounds like the first name of a famous Jedi warrior.
And remember: Learning to solve is a matter of successive approximations. If you could zip through them every time with no problem, what point would there be to doing them?
And while you’re here. Check out the photos of a frozen stream in Vermont on the site’s main blog.