A Typical Oreo Cookie

MONDAY PUZZLE — If you’re a longtime solver of crossword puzzles (or even if you’re only a short-time solver), you probably know that there are certain words that show up in the grid more often than others. Perhaps the most famous of these is the humble OREO, that delicious vegan snack comprising two chocolate cookies sandwiching a layer of crème. Indeed, OREO has appeared in the New York Times Crossword a whopping 457 times since the puzzle’s inception in 1942, although its clues have changed significantly in the intervening 80 years.

For its first 106 appearances, OREO was clued only as a prefix or combining form meaning “mountain” (as in “oreography,” the study of mountains). When the “Shortz Era,” named for the crossword editor Will Shortz, began in 1994, the “mountain” clues nearly stopped altogether — there was one in 1999, as well as another in 2016 that joked that OREO was a “Dessert item that was clued as ‘Mountain: Comb. form’ in old crosswords.” This shift in the way OREO is clued is indicative of a larger shift in the kinds of things that are acceptable fodder for crossword puzzles — brand names and popular culture references are now perfectly acceptable, while obscure prefixes have faded from use.

I’ve got two points here. One is that the things that make for acceptable crossword entries are always changing, and I think that’s a good thing. (I certainly don’t want to have to memorize scientific prefixes!) The other is that OREO appears so often as an entry in the puzzle that I was absolutely tickled to see if it feature in a clue for once — head to 46D for some Oreo trivia.

OK, back to this puzzle! It’s the fifth New York Times Crossword by Simon Marotte, and although it felt a little tough for a Monday, I enjoyed the theme and its pitch-perfect — pun absolutely intended — revealer quite a bit. Let’s have a look at some of the tougher clues and then unpack the theme.

70A. The clue “‘Pointer’ for giving presentations” seems like it’s about advice for someone about to engage in public speaking, but instead, it refers to LASER, a type of pointer a presenter might use to highlight information on a slide or chart.

1D. A “she-shed” is a place where a woman can pursue her hobbies free from distractions. I had never heard of a she-shed before seeing the State Farm commercial in which Sheryl’s she-shed is purportedly struck by lightning, so she calls her agent to determine if it’s covered and learns that she can now build a “chi-chi-er” she-shed. The “Counterpart of a ‘she-shed’” is a MAN CAVE.

5D. “What did ewe say?” plays on the phrase “what did you say,” swapping the homophones to indicate that we want to know what a female sheep said. She, like most other sheep, said BAA.

8D. MICROSLEEP was a new term for me. The clue tells us that it’s a “Super-quick snooze,” and a quick internet search indicates that it’s so quick that it lasts only a few seconds. MICROSLEEP most often occurs when you’re sleep-deprived and might involve the head-bobbing movement exhibited when nodding off.

49D. I have to admit, this clue took me a couple seconds. “Like the name Rob Banks, for a criminal” is the clue for APT because a person who is a criminal might rob banks.

55D. This isn’t a particularly tricky clue, but I wanted to flag that I personally don’t love seeing reference to the counting rhyme “EENIE, meenie, miney, moe” in puzzles, because historically, the next line used a racist slur. Even though the modern version of the rhyme does not use the same word, I still prefer to avoid it in puzzles that I make.

57D. You always know the editors are trying to make an answer as gettable as possible when they use an anagram clue. Here we have “Irish surname that anagrams to A SHOE” for O’SHEA — once you’ve got a few crosses in, there’s no way to miss this entry.

This puzzle features four theme entries in the long Across spaces and a revealer, which explains the theme, in the central Across space in the grid. The revealer clue is “Ump’s call after a first pitch … or a hint to the ends of 17-, 25-, 53- and 63-Across,” and the entry is STRIKE ONE. This revealer hints at the ends (second words) of the indicated entries if you read it not as the first STRIKE of an at-bat in a baseball game, but rather as an imperative to STRIKE ONE of the things in the second word of each theme entry.

Consider the first theme entry: The clue for 17A is “Footwear giant headquartered in Boston, Mass.” — the answer here is NEW BALANCE. If you follow the command in the revealer, you’ll see that it is telling you to STRIKE a BALANCE. Similarly, with 25A, the entry is DONE DEAL (“Fait accompli”) — a DEAL is another thing you can STRIKE. This pattern holds for the ends of the other two theme entries as well (located at 53A and 63A). If you’re solving in the online interface, clicking on any of the theme entries will also highlight the revealer, which may make it easier to find the connection.

Congratulations to Mr. Marotte for this simple yet elegant theme. Let’s hear from him about the inspiration for one of the theme clues in this puzzle:

When cluing 63-Across, I took inspiration from the musings of the great musician Nigel Tufnel. Here’s a short video in which he discusses his “Mach” style piece:

#Typical #Oreo #Cookie

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