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THURSDAY PUZZLE — I thought this puzzle by Lucy Howard and Ross Trudeau was extremely clever. When I spotted the “trick,” so to speak, my jaw dropped and I smiled at the same time. I may have dislocated my jaw as a result, but it was well worth it.
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: Before we get started, I’d like to answer one question that comes up very often with themes such as this one: No, this is not a rebus puzzle. It may look like one, but it’s not. My apologies to those who feel that this information is a spoiler, but I felt it was better to mention here than to bury it further down in the column, because not everyone reads all the way to the end. I know — I’m shocked, too.
26A. Nice pun: “Sticking points” are EPEES.
34A. Were you misdirected into thinking that this clue had to do with fueling up a car? Look again. If we were supposed to be thinking of cars, the proper name “Mustang” would get a capital M. No capital M, no car. We’re talking about horses, and fuel for a mustang is HAY.
6D. KISHKA, the haggis of Eastern European cuisine, has always ended with an E in the places I have encountered it. Even my spell-checker wants it to end with an E. The A in this puzzle is an alternative spelling.
10D. I was pretty sure the answer to “Natives of the Great Plains” was CHEYENNE, but having to add an S at the end threw me a bit. As far as I know, the plural form of the name is the same as the singular.
34D. I have a peculiar condition that makes my brain play a variety of Broadway soundtracks in my head, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not serious, and I now consider it to be my own version of elevator music, but it’s constant. Right now, my brain’s selection is “Legally Blonde,” which was fabulous when it was on Broadway.
I bring this up because, just as my brain was ready to make another selection — after weeks of “Legally Blonde” — the clue “Solution to a bad hair day, maybe” for HAT reminded me of the show’s song “Chip on My Shoulder” — all eight and a half minutes of it — and things started right up again. Thanks, Ms. Howard and Mr. Trudeau.
41D. Today I Learned (TIL) that there is yet another subgenre of fandom called E-BOYs and e-girls. Apparently, your average E-BOY is into skating, video games, anime and shopping. He dresses a certain way that seems to be part skater, part goth. I don’t even know anymore.
50D. This puzzle was constructed and edited before the recent incident involving JADA Pinkett Smith; her husband, the actor Will Smith; and Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. I’m not going to say anything more about it, and I hope that readers will keep it kind in the comments as well.
51D. When something is going “gangbusters,” it’s going extremely well and at full throttle. But it’s Thursday, so suspect everyone and everything: These busters of gangs are the FEDS.
We are being asked to “unlock” four of the answers in Ms. Howard and Mr. Trudeau’s puzzle, which we will do by turning those answers from their original position in the Down entries to part of the entry that crosses it. The entry TURNKEYS at 48A is the revealer. A turnkey is someone who is responsible for the keys of a jail.
In this puzzle, however, we have a different goal — using the “turned” KEYs allows us to complete the theme entries.
I first noticed this when I was struggling to fill in 3D, clued as “Moonshine container.” The answer obviously had to do with WHISKEY, but there weren’t enough squares.
The frustration! I looked around the grid to see whether other theme entries were truncated — perhaps this was a rebus puzzle. We typically see those on Thursdays, right?
So I sat and stared at my puzzle for a while. It helps, you know. Staring until my eyes almost cross from fatigue puts me into a more open-minded, meditative state, and the answers come more readily to me.
It wasn’t a rebus at all. The rest of the theme entries — the KEYs — cross the Downs to complete them. For example, at 3D, the answer was WHISKEY JUG, but there were only enough squares to write in WHIS__JUG. The KEY is part of 23A’s OKEY DOKE.
That’s one KEY turned. Get it?
Let’s do one more. At 5D, the answer is MONKEY PAW, but we can write in only MON__PAW. The KEY that is turned is part of 21A’s HOCKEY MOM.
That’s pretty nifty. If you are thinking about constructing your own themed crossword puzzle, looking for an adverb or verb phrase that can be reimagined inside the grid is a good way to go about it.
Lucy Howard: When Ross first approached me with TURNKEYS as a theme idea, I loved the concept of the KEYs visually ‘turning’ in the grid (he’s so clever!). But between the limited options for theme entries and the tricky interlocking of the KEYs, I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to pull this one off. After expanding our word lists to include as many ‘KEY’ words as possible (HOCKEY…BAG?), and many hours of grid tweaking, we finally landed on a grid we were happy with.
This puzzle was initially submitted with MONKEY POD as a theme entry, but The Times’s puzzle editing team thought MONKEY PAW would be more accessible. One more round of tweaking resulted in the puzzle you have today. Yay!
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