Give Me a Break!

Robert Ryan makes his crossword debut and immediately calls a recess.

They went thataway! Philipp Robbel, a Ph.D student in robotics at M.I.T., directing a quasi-kinesthetic robot made of parts from a Roomba vacuum and an Xbox Kinect gaming system.
Credit...Bryce Vickmark for The New York Times

Jump to: Tricky Clues | Today’s Theme

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Robert Ryan, of London, is an economist for the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. He grew up in Ireland, where he used to sit on his father’s knee and “help” him solve the cryptic crossword that ran in the back of a TV Guide. He subscribed to The New York Times in 2020, for its election coverage, and soon got hooked on solving the crossword puzzle.

This is his first puzzle for The Times; I found it really cool, a slow burner. The theme is more sophisticated than flashy, and the fill around it is absolutely tough, almost like a big Saturday, but it’s worth the consternation to get through — lots of good trivia and some fabulous bon mots in the wordplay.

25A. I was surprised to find that this “Milton who designed the ‘I ❤️ NY’ logo,” Milton GLASER, hasn’t been in the puzzle before. He was no one-hit wonder, but I confess to being bolstered by this little logo sometimes when its city is at a nadir, and it’s still everywhere when you look for it.

72A. This one, a debut that I teased out during a particularly, um, slow phase of my solve, hit too close to home. The “Price of ignorance, so to speak” is the IDIOT TAX, which I can never seem to pay off. I prefer the cheese tax.

81A. This peculiar name factoid never registered with me before now, and I had to fact-check it to believe my eyes. “‘Psycho’ mother” refers to the Hitchcock movie; Norman Bates’s materfamilias was NORMA.

103A. A little bit of Irish in this puzzle, perhaps from its constructor’s childhood? The “Irish name meaning ‘lover of hounds’” is CONOR.

107A. This is tough trivia that pops up in the crossword once in a while. “Tone deafness, medically,” is ASONIA (I struggled in this corner of this puzzle seemingly forever).

35D. Awesome wordplay here. “He can be found above it” requires knowledge of the top right corner of the Periodic Table; He, or helium, is right over NEON.

91D. This is a debut of an object that’s pretty much obsolete, although many of us probably have a couple lingering in desk drawers. The “Predecessor of a USB drive” in question is a PC CARD.

105D. Awesome wordplay here, part deux. “More than just a sec?” took hours to sink into my cranium. It refers to the dryness of Champagne, which increases from “sec” to BRUT.

There are seven theme entries today, at 23-, 34-, 47-, 63-, 84-, 98- and 109-Across. Each is clued with a question that merits a punny response that is also a nice crunchy crossword entry (six of the seven are debuts, and the seventh is a rarity).

I will be amazed if anyone susses the trick out without solving at least one theme entry backward, because it went straight over my head until I had two. I solved 109-Across on crosses, mainly because I had some luck with the fill in this southeast corner. “Use a family crypt?” solves to INTERRELATIONS, which registers as a familial term, at least, but didn’t hit my funny bone (which is sad, because it’s funny! I entirely blame myself).

My first realization came at 84-Across, “Boys’ club?,” whose answer is MALEFACTION. Or MALE FACTION. Oh! That makes INTER RELATIONS make ghoulish sense. It’s actually one of the “easier” theme entries to break in two, because it happens at a natural separation. Aha — that’s what’s meant by the puzzle’s title, “Give Me a Break!”

Take a look at 98-Across, “Swindle by instant messaging?”. The entry is CON TEXTUALLY, which is a riot, and also a counterintuitive way of registering this term (at least for me it was — I see “context” as a unit). The rest of these follow that very clever pattern.

It was fun looking for ways to split otherwise everyday words in a way that would create new terms with nice cluing angles. I imagined giving an online INN OVATION after a nice hotel stay, or making a trip to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or anywhere else in the DAM NATION. Others I entertained for a while included LAB ORATORY (a certain breed’s way of asking for treats), BROKE RAGE (the frustration just before payday) and DISC LOSER (someone not to lend your classic movie collection to). I also spent a bit of time thinking about what grammatical terms might qualify as PRONOUN CEMENT.

While I ultimately didn’t put these in the submission — mainly for being on the short side, needing a clunky clue, or having no good symmetrical partners — hopefully you all enjoy solving the set I did eventually end up with.

I’d love to dedicate this, my first-ever published crossword, to my dad, who introduced me to solving back in the ’90s. I reckon he would have found it pretty cool to try to solve one I put together!

Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.

What did you think?