wordplay, the crossword column

Bold Way to Solve

Slurp up this tasty puzzle from Aaron M. Rosenberg and Jeff Chen.

Two koalas on a tree. One bear is clutching a tree branch with its claws.
Two young, eucalyptus-eating “bears” made their first appearance at a zoo in Duisburg, Germany, on Dec. 19, 2022.Credit...Bernd Lauter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jump to: Tricky Clues | Today’s Theme

TUESDAY PUZZLE — Congratulations to Aaron M. Rosenberg and Jeff Chen, who constructed today’s puzzle together. This is Mr. Rosenberg’s second puzzle in The New York Times, after his hilarious debut that involved a shrink ray at a party, and Mr. Chen’s 140th puzzle — and his 95th collaboration.

The clue “Bold way to solve a sudoku” at 56D today had me thinking about different approaches to solving crossword puzzles and which ones might be considered “bold.” I know some solvers who write in the first possible answer that comes to mind for an entry, while others won’t write a single letter until they are certain a letter is correct. Tossing something into a grid without confirming any crosses is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that can pay off if you guess right, but sometimes locking it in can keep you from seeing what else might work in that spot.

My own approach is something of a blend. I’ll make a bold guess occasionally, but I like to be a little more methodical, checking crosses right away instead of letting a potentially incorrect guess linger in the grid. I’m afraid that if I leave one in the puzzle, I’ll move on and forget that the guess was just a guess! But for the top tier of competitive solvers, throwing in guesses for long entries is a common strategy. Fortune often favors the bold!

So let’s be bold together and take a look at some of the tougher clues in today’s puzzle followed by the delicious theme.

15A. EQUUS means “Horse, in Latin” — I know this word because of the play of the same name, in which Daniel Radcliffe once famously played the lead.

47A. “Space missions that collect data without landing” are FLYBYS. Check out this interactive article from 2015 on NASA’s flyby of Pluto.

4D. I’m sure most solvers know that a KOALA, a “Eucalyptus-eating ‘bear,’” is not, in fact, a bear, but rather a marsupial.

10D. The “E.P.A. pollution stat” A.Q.I. stands for Air Quality Index.

33D. I initially couldn’t come up with the answer to the clue “Low-frequency speaker,” thinking it referred to someone who didn’t speak very often. Instead, we are looking for WOOFER, a type of speaker that produces the bass notes.

56D. A “Bold way to solve a sudoku” is IN INK. I appreciate that the constructors chose a puzzle other than the crossword here, but really, IN INK is a bold way to solve any puzzle, unless that ink is erasable!

This puzzle features the names of four different kinds of tea in circles embedded within longer phrases. The revealer, at 39D, is BUBBLE TEA (“Beverage mixed with tapioca pearls … or a description of this puzzle’s circled letters?”). The names of the tea varieties contained within vertical circles look like the tapioca BUBBLEs, or “boba,” which are found at the bottom of a cup of BUBBLE TEA and travel up the thick straw that typically comes with it.

The first type of BUBBLE TEA is CHAI, embedded in the entry SPEECH AID (“Electronic device for a person with voice impairment”). In India, CHAI isn’t a variety of tea but the word for tea in Hindi, while in the United States the term is used to refer to the distinct blend known elsewhere as “masala CHAI.”

Next up is ASSAM in PASS A MILESTONE (“Go through one of life’s significant moments”). My favorite of the set is the improbable OOLONG (improbable because it’s such an unusual combination of letters), which neatly fits inside the snarky internet comment TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ, a “Response from someone who merely glanced at an online post, maybe.” I predict at least a few TL;DRs in the comments today! Finally, we have a generic HERBAL tea inside the entry WEATHER BALLOON (“What a U.F.O. might turn out to be”).

Kudos to Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Chen on this neat theme! Let’s hear from them about their collaborative experience.

Aaron M. Rosenberg: When I first submitted this puzzle, the editors took issue with one of my proposed theme entries, I’M INTO YOU. First, for not being as idiomatic as the other entries; second, because MINT tea is a subset of HERBAL tea. Not having a lot of good backup options, I considered abandoning the theme. Then I remembered the secret ingredient for when your puzzle needs a little something to push it over the finish line: Just add Jeff Chen!

Jeff was gracious enough to accept my plea for help, and the end result speaks to his expertise. In addition to conjuring up PASS A MILESTONE and the inspired TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ, he suggested a vertical orientation for the puzzle to make it seem as if the bubbles were being sucked up through straws.

There’s a more colorful entry for 3-Down that would have never passed the Breakfast Test. You can DM me on Twitter if you want to know what it is.

Jeff Chen: What a shame that there isn’t a famous person named JURGEN MAI CHAN. I’m such a fan of genmaicha’s toasty notes that I tried to convince Will Shortz that the aforementioned person was a huge star in Taiwan. That almost got us steeped in hot water.

I’m here all week, folks!

I enjoyed helping Aaron get this one across the finish line. His original submission contained MINT and CHAI, so it was engaging trying to discover longer options. I “TL;DR” most everything these days — ironic that the expanded phrase would be so useful.

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.”

Almost finished solving but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.

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