WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — It is always wonderful to welcome constructors when they make their debuts in the New York Times Crossword. Ann Shan joins the club with this puzzle.
Another wonderful thing to see is how often established puzzle makers are willing to encourage and to mentor new constructors. A lot of people like to think that there is cachet in learning to do things like this on their own, but it’s an art form that has many picayune and often unwritten rules. Those rules also evolve, so the fastest way to figure all of this out is to work with someone who can explain the terrain to you and guide you to a publication-worthy puzzle. There’s certainly no shame in that.
These mentors are often names you are familiar with, because you have seen their bylines on New York Times puzzles. And they generously give their time to those who want to learn.
One resource is to be on the lookout, as Ms. Shan was, in Wordplay constructor notes for published constructors who offer to work with aspiring constructors. If you are a member of a group that has been underrepresented in crosswords, another great resource is the Facebook Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory. If you are on Discord, there is a server for puzzle makers where constructing is discussed.
If you are more of an “in person, if by ‘in person’ you mean Zoom events” constructor, Laura Braunstein and Jesse Lansner offer a free, two-part class. Details are here. Ross Trudeau conducts constructing classes as well. Send him a message when you are ready to get started.
For now, however, Ms. Shan is celebrating her debut, as well as something else. Let’s celebrate with her.
1A. I was today years old when I learned that the word MUSCLE comes from a Latin word for “little mouse.”
45A. Is this a little extra love for the theme? In the Western zodiac, ARIES is the first astrological sign, approximately spanning March 20 to April 19.
1D. Nice misdirection here. A “naval post” sounds as if the answer should be “base,” but in this puzzle, the clue is hinting at a physical post, or a MAST.
35D. I may have mentioned that I like to nerd out on the changing meanings of words over time. RED STONE has not appeared in the New York Times Crossword since 1985, and back then it was clued as a U.S. missile or its arsenal. In 2021, it’s a source of energy in Minecraft, the popular video game.
Ms. Shan offers us three common phrases, and the first word of each phrase has to do with our bovine friends. We are celebrating them, as the revealer at 53A tells us, because 2021 is the Year of the Ox in the Lunar New Year.
For example, at 17A, the answer to the clue “Avoids, with ‘of’” is STEERS CLEAR, and STEERS are male bovines that have been castrated.
A very late happy Lunar New Year to you all! I’m so excited to be making my New York Times Crossword debut.
I started solving crosswords at the beginning of 2020, and I transitioned to constructing in March just as quarantine was kicking off. As a university student, it was a great way to fill a spring break with nowhere to go.
I owe a lot of thanks to those who used their constructor notes to encourage people interested in learning to construct (Erik Agard and Ross Trudeau come to mind), without whom my ideas would never have left the recesses of my notes app. I also want to give an especially big shout out to Rich Proulx for patiently mentoring me over dozens of emails.
A fun fact about the clue for 26-Down: the only other use of “wine-dark” by Homer is to describe oxen, an extra nod to the theme. I was also a little sad to lose my original clue for PEWS (“Laser gun noises”), but my favorite out of the many great new clues by the editing team was definitely 25-Across.
The Tipping Point
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