wordplay, the crossword column

Lickety-Split

Order some wings and dig into Nancy Serrano-Wu’s New York Times Crossword debut.

A black-and-white photo of two kittens and a dog sitting on steps next to a soda dispenser and two cups.
Two kittens, a dog and a soda siphon.Credit...Fox Photos/Getty Images

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WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — Congratulations to Nancy Serrano-Wu, who is making her debut in the New York Times Crossword today, which makes her the sixth constructor to make a first appearance in 2023.

Today’s puzzle felt pretty challenging, perhaps because I was solving before my morning coffee. I don’t know why that small hit of caffeine makes such a difference in my solving times, but someday I would like to do a randomized, placebo (decaf) controlled study on the matter. And then maybe I’ll reflect on the choices I’ve made in life that have made my brain so dependent on a hot beverage made from ground beans.

Until that day, I’ll continue pregaming my solves with coffee so I can move through them lickety-split and get on with the business of writing about the puzzle for all of you. Let’s go!

1A. I had no idea that the “Composer of the piano piece played in the ‘Tom and Jerry’ short ‘The Cat Concerto’” was Franz LISZT. I searched for the video after my solve, and I have no regrets:

17A. “Par ___ (by airmail, in French)” is the clue for AVION, which is French for “airplane.” So “par AVION” translates literally to “by airplane” and idiomatically to “by airmail.”

30A. Regular readers of Wordplay know that I try to choose CUTE animal pictures for the top of the column, so I had it easy today with the clue “Like a kitten cuddling with a puppy” for CUTE (though I also tried to incorporate a thematic element today — did you notice it?).

68A. I initially thought “Fix because of flatness, say” referred to fixing a flat tire, but instead we’re looking for TUNE, which is what you do to a flat instrument.

1D. An “Apt shoe for a bread maker?” is a LOAFER, though I have never seen LOAFERs made from loaves of bread.

6D. “Persons who identify as female, in an alternative spelling” is WOMYN. This spelling is sometimes preferred by people who do not like that the word “women” contains the root word “men.”

29D. For those born after the death of the landline, the clue “Abbr. above ‘0’” may seem like gibberish. On the phones that came before cellphones, however, the letters OPER, short for “OPERator,” could sometimes be found above the zero. Using that button instead of dialing the digits would connect callers to a person who would then connect them to their call recipients.

42D./59D. I noticed the parallel clues of “Daddy, in Spanish” and “Dad, in Chinese” for PAPI and BABA, which reminded me of an interesting linguistic phenomenon.

53D. I guessed “skull” for the “Symbol of poison on a warning label,” but the answer is MR. YUK, a green sticker of a grimacing face that parents can use to label dangerous substances. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where MR. YUK was invented, so I really should have known this one!

This puzzle features four theme entries that share the same clue: “Sports bar purchases?” Each entry is a sports term, and the second word in each entry is also the name of something you might order at a bar.

The first entry is FANTASY DRAFTS, which are where owners of fantasy sports teams select their players. In the context of this puzzle, however, a FANTASY DRAFT might be a draft beer purchased at a sports bar.

Next up is PENALTY SHOTS, which are scoring attempts against only the goalkeeper that are granted in response to a rules violation in ice hockey, soccer, water polo and other sports … or shots of liquor purchased at a sports bar.

The third theme entry is STAR PITCHERS. These could be excellent pitchers on a baseball team or pitchers of beer purchased at a sports bar.

Finally, TRIPLE-DOUBLES are basketball feats “in which a player accumulates a total of 10 or more in three statistical categories (usually points, assists, and rebounds) in one game.” A double would also be a double shot of liquor purchased at a sports bar.

I like the all-sports range of this puzzle, which fits right in with the all-sports vibe of most sports bars I’ve visited. Kudos to Mrs. Serrano-Wu. Let’s hear from her about this debut puzzle.

“OMG OMG OMG” is what I shouted upon reading the acceptance email! After 12 rejections, I guess 13 is my new lucky number. What began as birthday gifts to my pal Bern Noack became a challenge to get published in The New York Times. And now, constructing is something I can’t imagine not doing.

I’m a proud Colombian and immigration lawyer married to an incredibly supportive husband (Mike) and a mom to three awesome and sporty kiddos. I’m thrilled to increase the ranks of published Latina constructors. I also love representing my family’s diverse heritage with PAPI and BABA in the puzzle.

This puzzle began with TRACK SPIKES and UNEVEN BARS, as a nod to my runner (Max) and my gymnast (Ella). The puzzle evolved to be an ode to Henry, highlighting his passion for all sports. With my kids now all being in college and Max having spent the better part of the pandemic brewing cider at home, the punniness of sports bar purchases just felt right.

Thanks to Steve Mossberg, #BestMentorEver, and the sounding boards Megan Nelson, Riza Rosales and Matt Schnall. Happy to help any newbies from underrepresented groups on their own journey! I’m on Twitter, @NancySerranoWu.

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.”

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