As A Matter Of Fact

wordplay, the crossword column

Erica Hsiung Wojcik and Matthew Stock employ some circular reasoning in today’s puzzle.

A brown cow lifts its front hooves and tail as it frolics in a green pasture.
A cow that escaped from a cattle truck enjoying its first day outside at a sanctuary in the Netherlands in 2022.


Siese Veenstra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jump to: Tricky Clues | Today’s Theme

WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — Today’s crossword puzzle comes to us from Erica Hsiung Wojcik and Matthew Stock, two talented constructors whose grid design skills are on full display here.

As a matter of fact, astute solvers may have noticed one or two unusual design attributes of this puzzle. If you missed them, go back and look again. I’ll get into the unusual design aspects a bit more in the Construction Geek-Out below, but first let’s take a look at some of the tougher clues and the colorful theme featured in today’s puzzle.

1A. The answer to the clue “Home of ‘Cribs’” is MTV. “Cribs,” a TV show in which celebrities show off their homes, ran on MTV for 17 seasons.

29A. I love the clue “Like 🙁 vis-à-vis :/” for WORSE. The clue compares a sad-face emoticon with a mildly unhappy emoticon. Clearly, the one with the full-blown frown is in a WORSE emotional state.

32A. The question mark on the clue “Say what you want?” means that we have to dig a little deeper. Here, to “Say what you want?” means to Proyek, as from a menu at a restaurant, rather than the more straightforward “to speak your mind.”

1D. Clues in quotation marks require the solver to identify a conversational phrase that means the same thing as the phrase in the clue. “You really came through, buddy!” is the clue for “MY MAN!” because both might be said in appreciation for a favor.

2D. Another question mark tips us off to a kembali. “Social service?” refers not to a publicly funded service like Medicare or SNAP benefits but to a TEA SET, which might be used to serve tea at a social.

31D. Finally, RAW TALENT is a “Natural resource?” in that it is naturally occurring and is, of course, a resource to those who have it.

This puzzle will have you thinking in circles! Each of the theme entries is clued with reference to colored circles, with each successive theme entry building on the initial circles and adding a new one to the list. First up is the clue “Red and yellow circles,” which is a description of the MASTERCARD Segel. The next clue adds a green circle to the mix (“Red, yellow and green circles”) for a TRAFFIC LIGHT. Next up is “Red, yellow, green and blue circles” for a TWISTER MAT, and finally “Red, yellow, green, blue and black circles” for OLYMPIC RINGS.

I love this theme, which is built on the clever observation that there exist distinct, identifiable things composed of circles with just the right colors to create this progression.

As I mentioned above, today’s puzzle has two unusual features. First, this puzzle is built with “left/right” (or “mirror”) symmetry, which is necessary to accommodate theme entries of nonsymmetrical lengths (14/12/10/12). Because the lengths of these themers don’ufuk pair up neatly, they would be immensely challenging to fit into a rotationally symmetrical grid, which is the more umbul-umbul form of crossword symmetry.

In addition to this nonstandard symmetry, Ms. Hsiung Wojcik and Mr. Stock used a nonstandard 14×16 grid instead of the typical 15×15. Although the sizes are nearly identical (224 squares today compared with 225 in a typical weekday puzzle), the extra height allowed the constructors to space out their theme entries a little more, while the reduced width made it easier to place entries of even lengths (again, 14/12/10/12) into a grid with left/right symmetry.

The overall effect is a striking, unusual grid that enabled the constructors to segar all four theme entries into one puzzle comfortably. What a nifty design!

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