Jump to: Today’s Theme | Tricky Clues
MONDAY PUZZLE — It is tempting to approach the theme of today’s crossword, which was constructed by Hoang-Kim Vu, with a certain degree of gravitas, since the revealer cites a “Classic Maya Angelou poem” (10D).
I’ll admit that I have never thought of Ms. Angelou, with her legacy of scholarship, art and civil rights activism, as having a whimsical streak. But as I watched her perform the lines from the cited poem — see the video below — I was reminded of another of Mr. Vu’s clues: “What catches more flies than vinegar, in a saying” (49D).
Sometimes, doom and gloom isn’t needed to carry the weight of a powerful message. You can kill them with kindness instead.
The key to appreciating what’s going on here lies in the title of the poem clued at 10-Down: “Classic Maya Angelou poem … or a hint to the answers to the starred clues and the circled letters, in two different ways.”
Ms. Angelou’s famous 1978 poem is called STILL I RISE. An excerpt:
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
There’s enough in Ms. Angelou’s reading of “Still I Rise” to send me into quiet contemplation for the rest of the day, but let’s return to the crossword theme. The words “Still I Rise” can be interpreted to describe the ascension of the subjects in each starred clue: A BALLOONIST (28D) rises in the air; BREAD DOUGH (17A) rises in the oven; an UP-AND-COMER (57A) rises in social rank.
“Still I Rise” also points to the movement of a letter through the grid: The I drifts diagonally upward, from the bottom left corner to the top right one. To be honest, I might have enjoyed the reveal of Mr. Vu’s theme without the addition of the starred clues — the rising I is just so lovely on its own — but who are we, here at Wordplay, to balk at a double meaning?
9A. A name “hidden” in a two-word phrase can often be found by connecting the words. Here, doing so for “Chef Ming ____, whose last name is hidden in ‘condiments aisle’” gives us TSAI.
43A. Imagine going back to when the first New York Times Crossword puzzle was published, in 1942, and showing its constructors, Margaret Farrar and C. Erlenkotter, this clue. You would have to explain that “OTOH …” was texting slang for “on the other hand,” and could therefore also be represented by the entry “THO,” an informal abbreviation for “though.” Of course, Margaret would ask what texting was, and you’d realize you were going to have to spend a lot longer in 1942 than you’d originally planned.
63A. A three-letter adjective meaning “Foxy” could refer to physical attractiveness or to cunning. Crossings reveal it’s the second one: SLY.
15D. “A truly unpleasant situation” is THE PITS. (Yes, the term’s slangy origins are as obvious as you think they are.)
33D. I was thrilled to discover the name of an “Ancient Greek marketplace” was AGORA, as it forms the root for a common fear of open spaces: agoraphobia.
50D. A “Cup or pint” isn’t what you’re planning to order at the bar later — at least not as far as this puzzle is concerned. Each is just an example of a UNIT of measurement.
The original version of this puzzle had the additional intended theme answers of “free-solo” and “heat wave” at 4- and 39-Down, as well as additional I’s running up the same column as STILL I RISE, to have two strings of rising I’s. But that theme density constrained the fill and gave it a slightly crunchier difficulty, and the extra theme entries were the weaker ones in the set, anyway.
Many thanks to the editing team for its sage advice to dial it back a bit, and for letting me take a second shot at it. Hope you enjoyed!
Don’t Fear the Fridays: About the Easy Mode Newsletter
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 contain a small sample of the clues from this Friday’s puzzle. When you click on them, you will see the version of the clue that will run in the regular puzzle as well as the easier version.
(Warning: The following are spoilers for the Friday puzzle.)
Not so tough, right? You can definitely solve Friday puzzles. You may just need some practice before you’re conquering them on your own.