One Way to Run

img ]

There are four places in his grid where two countries cross on a letter, and each of those letters that cross two entries spell the name of another country, IRAN. Sounds simple, right?

Not quite. The country entries are clued as what the entry might be if that crossing letter was not there. And yet it is there, so it’s a country.

Wait, what?

Let’s look at 4D and 21A. At 4D, the clue is “Bad start?,” which is itself a misdirection. It doesn’t refer to getting off on the wrong foot. The clue is asking for a prefix (start) that means “bad.” The answer is MAL, but that leaves us with an extra square, which is a big no-no in crossword constructing. Or so I’m told.

Meanwhile, at 21A, the clue “It comes first in China, but second in the U.S.” is asking for the answer SURNAME (what a great clue!). But it doesn’t fit in the slot the way it should. It, too, needs one more letter.

How do we know what to put in that square? This is why we have revealers. The phrase CROSS COUNTRY indicates that we need to make countries out of those crossing entries. The only thing that will work is to put the letter “I” in the empty square, which gives us MALI and SURINAME. There are three other crossed countries for you to find.

And there is an Easter egg of sorts in this theme. If you cross the grid, back and forth starting with the “I,” it spells the name of yet another country. If you got it, say so in the comments.

Nicely done, Mr. Vengsarkar.

Constructor Notes

For a Thursday puzzle like this one, I always wonder how the puzzle unravels for you, the solver. Do you like the initial dissonance, a feeling that something is amiss? And once the central theme answer (CROSS COUNTRY) reveals itself, does the puzzle fall easily? The first crossing was probably the hardest to get, especially if you entered LAST NAME (for “First in China, second in US”). Once the grid was partially filled, did the crossword staples (PAN AM, BE IN and maybe even IGER) provide the confidence that a square had to be skipped? I would really love to hear your experience with themes like these — was there was an “aha!” moment, or was it just a painful drag as you cursed the constructor for this mean trickery? As usual, great work by the New York Times Crossword editors on the changed clues — they know how to clean up some of my wild ones and create a balanced offering. One of my misdirection clues that did not make it: “Probe that ended Sept. 15, 2017” for CASSINI. And that hard TONG-as-a-verb clue? Not mine! Hope you enjoyed the twist and used the missing letters to spell the hidden cross country.

Want to Submit Crosswords to The New York Times?

The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.

For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”

How’d You Do That?!

img ]

TUESDAY PUZZLE — Oh my goodness, I have so many feelings about this puzzle! For one thing, the story in Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau’s constructor notes made my shriveled Grinch heart grow at least six sizes. Congratulations to these two lovebirds on both their co-constructed New York Times Crossword and their co-constructed future together!

Another feeling I have about this puzzle is astonishment at the intricacy of the construction. While I was solving, the theme material felt pretty dense, but once I had finished and I saw the interlocking theme entries, I knew there was no other title I could use. Ms. Bullock and Mr. Trudeau: How’d you do that?! (And don’t say “6-Across,” because that would be a deeply unhelpful, wry reply). We’ll dive more into the theme and its impressive construction after taking a look at some of its trickier clues.

Tricky Clues

11A. “Mean marks, for short?” is a punny clue playing on multiple possible meanings of both “mean” and “marks.” “Mean” can be either unkind or average, and “marks” can be markings or grades. In this case, “mean marks” are not cruel bathroom graffiti but a grade-point average, or GPA for short.

68A. A “Deli fixture with a store of bread?” isn’t some secret closet where a deli stores the loaves it plans to use for sandwiches, but an ATM, which stores cash, or “bread.”

NYT Crossword: Late-night host Meyers

img ]

MONDAY PUZZLE — One of the most important personal qualities a new solver can have is stick-to-itiveness. Getting started in crossword puzzles is hard — it can feel like learning a new language as you figure out how to decipher the subtle hints in the clues that tell you what to look for in an entry. For example, a new solver may not know what “, say” means, or that an abbreviation in the clue means there will be an abbreviation in the entry. The more you solve, the more you begin to recognize these little flags, but getting over that initial hump of “why on earth is there a question mark in this clue?!” can feel insurmountable.

And so, the best thing a new solver can do (aside from regularly reading Wordplay, of course!), is to stick to it. Every time you encounter the language of crosswords, it becomes a little easier to understand what a clue is saying to you. And if that doesn’t work, you can always read the “Tricky Clues” section of this column!

This Monday puzzle by Freddie Cheng contains a little of each of these kinds of crossword clue hints. See below for a few examples of how Mr. Cheng uses “?,” “, say,” and a well-chosen abbreviation.

Puzzling Things to Do at Home

The upcoming Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament is the most fun you can have on a Saturday in August! Though traditionally held in person in New York City, the tournament will be entirely online this year, so you can join the fun from anywhere in the world. The puzzles are top rate (I test-solved them, so I know!), the hosts (Brian Cimmet, Brooke Husic and Sid Sivakumar) are brilliant and entertaining, and the constructor roster is swoonworthy. Even if you aren’t a particularly fast solver, you can solve the puzzles at your own pace and enjoy the feeling of crossword community and togetherness.