NYT Crossword Answers for Aug. 31, 2023

Jump to: Today’s Theme | Tricky Clues

THURSDAY PUZZLE — There are solvers who enjoy the unique aspects of a Thursday New York Times Crossword, and there are those who don’t. I fall resolutely into the first category.

The solvers who fall into the second category — those who are frustrated with Thursday puzzles — can be split into two more categories: people who want the puzzle to be a grid where they simply cross words as they do the rest of the week, and those who need help understanding the theme but feel as if their chains are being yanked because the answers are not what they expected.

I’d like to speak to that last group — the solvers who feel as if they’ve been taken advantage of because the type of puzzle theme was one they had never seen before.

The good news is that the puzzle editors want you to be able to solve the puzzle. A lot of work goes into making each puzzle fair, if not easy to solve. (Seriously. I’ve seen them actually break a sweat.)

From what readers have told me over the years, the real issue is that they don’t know when to expect a tricky theme, and wish the puzzle contained some sort of a warning or tip-off. The problem is that this would defeat the whole purpose of solving a puzzle, which is to enjoy the satisfaction of figuring things out on your own. And it would spoil the fun for those with more experience.

The key to enjoying the trickier puzzles is to learn to expect anything and everything from constructors. Almost nothing outside the laws of physics is off the table. (And even then. Talk about breaking the fourth wall. The answers are here.)

So following is some advice for getting better at predicting tricks in the Crossword:

Generally, you will see things like rebuses and other strange ways of reading the entries on Thursdays. Occasionally, you may also run into these things in a Sunday puzzle. I’ve seen a rebus or two on a Wednesday, but it’s very rare.

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Answers that don’t fit their slots, or just don’t make sense, are reason enough to believe that something is going on. That’s your cue to stop, take a breath and tell your brain to proceed with caution. Take breaks if you need to, because returning to the puzzle may help you see things that you didn’t notice before.

Practice will lead to better predictive abilities. I know, the word “practice” makes you flash back to your childhood piano lessons, but there’s really no way around this. The more puzzles you solve, the better you will be at spotting the tricks.

That last point is very important. Today you may find it nearly impossible to figure out what’s going on. But if you make a habit of at least trying the Thursday puzzle each week, you may see a pattern emerge that is helpful. And in time you may find, as I did, that Thursdays have become your favorite solving day.

Freddie Cheng’s theme is definitely what I would call tricky, because the answers you have to write in are not complete. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to find the rest of the answer. And it’s not as far away as you may think.

The answer to the revealer clue at 47D (“‘Haven’t the foggiest!’ … or, when the first two letters are put at the end, an essential part of seven answers in this puzzle”) is NO CLUE.

When I started solving Mr. Cheng’s puzzle, I confused myself by thinking that the first two letters of the theme answers needed to be put at the end, but it’s the revealer that needs the old switcheroo. That means that the revealer actually looks like this: CLUE NO.

Did you catch that? The NO is now an abbreviation for “number.” We have to look at the clue numbers to find the beginning of each theme answer.

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For example, at 30D, the answer to “NBC comedy series starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin” as we need to write it is ROCK, but those of us who watched that comedy know that there’s more to it. The show was actually called “30 ROCK,” and — oh wait, look at that! Mr. Cheng has deftly put the answer in a slot that has the number 30 in it.

So the way we’re supposed to read these theme answers is “[clue no.] + entry.”

Let’s do one more. At 39D, the clue reads “1935 Hitchcock thriller, with ‘The’” and the answer as written is STEPS. Mr. Hitchcock’s film was not called “The STEPS,” but “The 39 STEPS.”

That was tricky but not impossible, right? And if it was, instead of getting mad at yourself or the puzzle editors, try to think of solving Thursdays as a path. The first step is to start, and then all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Come here to find help when you need it. Don’t worry about how others are solving — you are doing this for you, and no one else.

You’ve got this.

1A. The “Follower of November” is not December but OSCAR because this clue is referring to the NATO alphabet. To read more about why people have adapted the alphabet to their own needs by using their own words, check out this article by Sam Corbin.

26A. Dennis Rodman, the former N.B.A. star and Kim Jong-un’s “friend for life,” was a “self-appointed peace ambassador” to North Korea.

44A. The “Fall in the winter” is SNOW as in SNOWfall.

50A. In England, potato chips are called CRISPS.

58A. The canines in the clue “Where to find canines” are teeth, not dogs. You would find canine teeth in the JAW.

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36D. “‘I’ problems?” is not about visual issues. It is simply a homophonic clue (eye vs. I), and the answer is the Freudian EGOS.

Of the many (too) weird and (too) wacky Thursdays I’ve ever submitted, this one runs much easier in comparison, as you could technically solve the whole puzzle while being oblivious to the gimmick. The New York Times Crossword team was even half contemplating it for a Wednesday. Thankfully, it did publish today, so I can finally “hit for the cycle.” (Bucket list!)

In previous Thursday puzzles, constructors have played around with pretty much everything they can get their hands on — from what can go in the white/black squares, to the space outside the grid, and, of course, to the clues themselves. Why not play around with the clue numbers, too, I thought?

I restricted the theme entries to those with Arabic numerals only, as per the clue numbering format. Since moving black squares affected the numbering sequence, there was a lot of trial and error in the construction, given the need for symmetry. I would love to have restricted the theme squares to only one Arabic number per entry, but in the end, it wasn’t worth sacrificing for the additional flexibility.

Kudos to the puzzle editing team for clues 43A and 63A!

Constructor’s log: Submitted and accepted between May and August, 2022.

Christina Iverson, a puzzle editor, will send a weekly Friday crossword with more accessible clues right to your inbox if you sign up for the Easy Mode newsletter. This extra bit of goodness is for those who would like to try the Friday puzzles but have heard all about how hard they are.

Take a look at the difference between the regular and easy-mode clues below. The links are a small sample of the clues from the Friday puzzle. When you click on them, you will see the version that will run in the regular puzzle as well as the easier version.

(Warning: The following are spoilers for the Friday puzzle.)

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