SATURDAY PUZZLE — This is the 10th Times puzzle from Kate Hawkins and her first Saturday after three themeless Friday grids. (The most recent of those is from late 2021.) I think we’re firmly in Saturday territory with this one; my personal line between a Friday and a Saturday puzzle is how easily I can finish it in one sitting, without getting frustrated or needing a break for rumination.
I definitely needed that break on this one, and I also gained more appreciation of the puzzle’s quirkiness when I revisited it a third time, after my solve was complete, for this column.
There’s hardly any boring “glue” fill here. The flip side of that resultant brightness is that there are a lot of places to get stuck. I went so far afield a few times that I considered the ludicrous notion of a Saturday rebus, and I didn’t get a single letter in the southwest quadrant of the puzzle when I took my first crack at solving.
14A. This debut is an idiom, like its clue, “Guilt trip?” And almost every online mention of it that I can find indicates that it is most often a pejorative used in politics. When public officials acknowledge any past wrongdoing or imperfection of character on their or their country’s part, they’re apparently on an APOLOGY TOUR. (Both of these idioms are examples of “regretoric,” an impeccable portmanteau.)
25A. In another debut, “Brain-tingly feeling that may come from hearing whispering or crinkling, in brief” describes autonomous sensory meridian response, or A.S.M.R.
28A. I needed several crossing letters to deduce this entry and had a laugh when I figured it out. An “Inefficient confetti-making tool” could be almost anything, but in this case it’s a HOLE PUNCH.
36A. This entry makes a return after a 67-year absence, and I will be darned if I can remember seeing it before, in any context. “Good cheer” is JOLLITY; I couldn’t squeeze in “jocularity” or “joviality,” but I confess that I tried.
52A. “One getting bent out of shape at preschool?” is a PIPE CLEANER, which makes its first appearance in a Times puzzle. The wordplay in this clue was lost on me, but the art of “chenille stem” sculpture is adorable.
6D. “Oh!” I said to myself after I filled this little clue in on crosses. “Mind your business.” Not quite! “‘That’s on me,’ slangily” doesn’t refer to something private; it refers to an error, good-naturedly accounted for. MY B is short for “my bad.”
26D. “Quite the reverse” solves to a real bang-up term from the 1930s. The old SWITCHEROO is more than a tricky 180-degree maneuver; it usually includes a surprise and is especially delightful when used to turn the tables on a scam.
41D. A couple of good idioms form this clue-entry combination. “Cheesed off,” meaning annoyed or flummoxed, is apparently borne of the British military in the 20th century (and probably conjured from “hard cheese” meaning hard luck). The entry is IN A PET, referring to a peevish or sulky mood, which dates back to the 1500s, long before “pet” was used to describe an animal kept solely for companionship.
This is my 10th puzzle in The New York Times and my first Saturday puzzle. Is it harder than my previous Friday themelesses? You tell me!
I really love the longer phrases in this one. Hope you enjoy solving it!
(P.S. San Franciscans might be able to guess what neighborhood name I originally had at 39A before the editors zhuzhed up — and East-Coasted up — that section.)
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