Green Juice

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Friday Puzzle — If you are not a constructor, you probably sit down to solve a crossword puzzle without thinking about how difficult it is to fill in the grid.

That’s fine. Analyzing the puzzle and its construction isn’t usually part of the solving agenda. But it’s something the creators pay attention to when they receive other people’s puzzles.

Without going into too much detail, I want to point out a few things about today’s crossword, created by Trent H. Evans, and that I think should be revisited. Visit the link below for a little discussion. If you don’t want spoilers, please visit the Tricky Clues section.

What I like most about themeless crosswords is that there is no theme. I love a good theme, mind you. It’s just that in order to keep the themes in the grid, a lot of black squares have to be placed around them, which cuts off places where long, exciting entries could be.

Most creators enjoy the extra space offered in a theme-less grid, and there are a few ways they make their puzzles stand out:

  • They edit their word lists by adding new and unique words and phrases to excite their listeners. Useless entries in the lists are judiciously pruned.

  • They try to find at least one top-level seed entry to fill in the puzzle first (and seeds often anchor the grid). I believe Mr. Evans’ seed was probably 35A, a little help here, who attended for the first timeThis is an entry that will bring a smile to most people’s faces, as it is in colloquial language and is unusual to see in a crossword.

  • They make for a lively stack. A stack is a series of crossword entries that sit either on top of each other (such as 1A, 15A and 17A) or next to each other (such as 12D and 13D). If all the entries shine, it usually ensures that at least that quadrant of the grid will be enjoyable for the solver. A stack that includes winners such as Northwest’s TRUST FALL, SOCIAL CUE and ALL ABOARD is going to entice solvers to continue. The trick – and this is partly how I decide if a stack is successful – is to make sure the crossings in the stack are also interesting and not obscure words or abbreviations. In my opinion, all nine entries crossing 1A, 15A and 17A are good.

So when you’re done solving, go back and take a closer look at Mr. Evans’ work. If you’re working with crossword grids and aspire to become a themeless constructor, this is a good example of the kind of submission that is accepted by puzzle editors. It’s a lot more work than one might think, but the end result is worth it.

1A. I don’t remember exactly when TRUST FALL became an example of the kind of corporate camaraderie you should maintain with your team, but it was very popular. [Activity at a company retreat]The way it worked was that you had to fall backwards into a coworker’s arms, with no guarantee that the person would be able to catch you. If your coworker succeeded, trust was established between the two of you, but a day later you would find out that it was this specific coworker who was stealing your lunch from the office refrigerator.

17A. it [Training announcement?] This is not a list of drills for you. In this case, the training has to do with engines, and the announcement is, everybody aboard.

25A. The word ASPIC, which means [Savory jelly]has appeared 148 times in the New York Times crossword, and although I haven’t gotten to them all, I’ve felt a little nauseated each time. Who wants to eat delicious jelly?

That all changed when I ate my first Chinese soup dumpling, or Xiao Long BaoThese luscious pieces of deliciousness are filled with a soul-warming broth and a meatball. The dumplings are eaten without third-degree burns by poking a small hole in the wrapping (they are served very hot), then drinking the broth from the inside until you reach the center of the meat. You can add a drop of black vinegar to make the broth even more delicious, as you wonder how the hell they put the soup in there. I later learned that this culinary miracle is done by adding gelatin and cooling the broth until it solidifies, which essentially makes it an aspic. Teaspoons of the gel are placed in the dumpling wrappers with the meatballs, and each dumpling is closed by cleverly making several folds in the wrapper. When they are ready to be served, the dumplings are steamed, which returns the broth to its liquid form.

44A. [Burn letters?] This is not a call to set your correspondence on fire. It refers to the letters SPF, which you’ll find on a bottle of sunblock.

45A. I had to find it. I knew that [What 0! equals] It was a math clue, but I’m not an expert on factorials. I got the answer one because it was the right one, but curiosity got the better of me. I can give you a much better explanation of why 0! equals one,

55A. A [Hard fall?] It sounds painful, but what is in this puzzle is hail, because hail is hard when it falls.

2D. This [Billing matter] It doesn’t mean money, it means the place of your name on the theatre marquee. The answer is role.

5D. If you were wondering while reading the clues “Who is Tom?” [Tom sporting a striped coat, say]This clue is not about a person named Tom. This clue is about a cat; a tabby cat with stripes.

26d. There are many places and kiosks in New York City that sell freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. [Green juice?] Usually leafy vegetables like spinach. However, in Mr Evans’ puzzle, juice means power, and the answer is solar power, a form of green energy.

56D. Clue [Air force?] The military is not mentioned here. The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is also a force, and it works to make sure people are safe while traveling by air.

This is my 11th puzzle for The New York Times. I have rarely experienced anything like the one I had when I received the email from Will Shortz in 2018, welcoming me as he accepted me for the first time. Like a first date that went great and like the 11th year of marriage, it is different now. It may have lost some of the excitement, but I have gained something even better: a sense of belonging in a community of good-hearted and like-minded people who create and solve puzzles.

My wife and I recently returned from a vacation driving all over the west coast from Seattle to San Diego. I discovered many things on that trip as we passed through different landscapes and cultures. What struck me most is that people on Earth live life in so many different ways. And my life is one of them. I love that puzzles are a medium that allows us to come together and share the same experience despite our many differences. Knowing that so many people are going to experience this puzzle at every stop along the journey from Washington to California is a great privilege I never could have imagined.

Considering the interconnectedness of everything is something I try to do through meditation. Today, in this tangible way, my mind is able to connect with so many other minds in so many other places. The euphoria has been replaced by something much deeper, and I thank you for being on the other end of it. Hopefully we will collectively be even more mindful of our interconnectedness and interdependence as we move forward in the world we live in today.

Do you want to be part of the conversation about New York Times Games, or maybe need help solving a tough puzzle? Here you go:

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