How to Solve the Saturday New York Times Crossword

May 09, 2010

(Now everybody will have something to do tomorrow!)

The Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle is a tough test, some say the toughest. Word nerd that I am, my favorite part of Saturday morning is sitting down with a cup of tea and taking a crack at it. About 90% of the time, I can solve or mostly solve it, but it can take me anywhere from an hour to several hours. I spent a couple days working on the puzzle above, using a wide a variety of writing implements!

Here are a few tips for crossword lovers looking to take their game to the next level ...

Strategy

1. Use a pencil. As you can see from the photo, pens may backfire.

2. What makes the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle so difficult is not the answers, but the clues. In fact, the answers are often simple words. But you have to open your mind to interpret clues in multiple and unusual ways. For example, in last week's puzzle, we had the clue, "Like anchors". I was thinking about barnacles, submerged, etc. The answer was "ON CAMERA". It took me a while to think of "anchors" as in TV anchors. Which brings up a second strategic point.

3. The Saturday puzzle doesn't tell you how many words are in the answer. Could be one, two, three, or more. So be careful about sticking an "S" at the end of a word if the clue suggests a plural answer. Worse, some really devilish puzzles have multiple letters or even symbols within particular squares. Or have certain answers filled in backwards. I even remember one where some of the letters went outside the frame of the puzzle. So if you're convinced you have the answer but it doesn't fit ... think again.

4. If you are completely blocked, walk away. Mow the lawn, prune a tree, clear your head somehow. Sometimes I'll be totally stumped and come back after resting my brain and boom! Answers pop into my head right away. Perhaps Robyn McMaster or Dr. Ellen Weber can explain why!

Tactics

1. Start by going straight through all the Across and Down clues. Don't spend too much time pondering any one clue, and don't freak out if you only solve one, or maybe don't solve any. You're looking for one or two anchor answers to build on. Last week, I could only come up with one answer on my first pass. The clue was "Big numismatic news" and the solution was "MISPRINT".

2. Next step -- go through the entire puzzle again and fill in any "-s" and "-ed" endings that seem appropriate based on the clue. Like I said earlier, you have to be careful. Last week, we had a clue, "Some pointers", with a six-letter answer. I thought it was safe to put an "s" in box 6 because two three-letter words or a four-two combination seemed improbable. On the other hand, for the clue "Nurses, say", a two-word answer was possible, since it had eight-letters. No "s". (The answer was "CARES FOR".)

3. Now take a very hard look at the clues around any squares you have letters filled in. Once I had "MISPRINT", an intersecting clue, "Legendary brothers in law", became easy -- "EARPS". Another intersecting clue, "Some DVR's", had to be something like "RCAS" or "NECS", so I thought about which of those sets of letters, if either, looked more appropriate for the unsolved, intersecting words. In this case, "RCA" looked good, so I went with it.

4. If you hit a dead end, start from the top and take another, more thoughtful pass at all the Across and Down clues. By now you've gotten into the game and you may be surprised at how many possible solutions start coming to mind.

5. Try to identify a fit between two intersecting clues. If you find one, that may be all you need to solve or partially solve both clues. For the Across clue "Zebralike" and the intersecting Down clue "Alternative to a water ski", I was stumped until I thought "Q". A "Q" in "EQUINE" aligned with an answer starting "AQUA". A good fit -- too good to be coincidental -- so I wrote it in, leaving the last five letters of "AQUA" open because I didn't know aqua-what. (It turned out to be "AQUAPLANE".)

That's about it. Do you have any tips for the New York Times crossword? Tell us your secrets!

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