Kevin Christian gives us a geography lesson.
MONDAY PUZZLE — Surprise! Rachel Fabi, your intrepid Monday-to-Wednesday columnist, is off the grid in more ways than one this week, so other members of the growing Wordplay posse will be sitting in for her.
Also, we have a very exciting announcement: Starting Monday, July 12, we will be doing a weekly Crosswords Live for new solvers, where we will discuss tips, tricks, and all the things you need to know to become a confident solver. You will be able to contribute answers to the Monday puzzle as we solve it, and you will be able to chat with us and our guests. If you are hoping to get started as a solver, or if you would like to improve your skills, I hope you’ll join us for this fun, interactive feature.
You can find the livestream on Mondays at 1 p.m. Eastern on Twitter (@NYTimesWordplay), Twitch (WordplayNYT) and YouTube (WordplayNYT). If you can’t make it to the livestream, the videos will remain up on the platforms and you can watch at your leisure.
And now, we review some basic geography with Kevin Christian.
16A. Fun fact: There is such a thing as “two-finger” and “three-finger” POI, depending on the thickness of the pounded taro dish.
23A. Nancy Cartwright has voiced BART Simpson since “The Simpsons” began. She can sometimes freak people out.
26A. Perhaps I should have remembered that ALBERTO GONZALES was George W. Bush’s attorney general, but I didn’t, so I got it by solving enough crossings that I could take a reasonable guess. Mr. GONZALES also serves as one of the theme entries (his name contains the country of TOGO).
34A. New solvers will see this clue/answer pairing a lot, so if you are on the younger side, it will pay to commit this to memory. Before Ron Howard became a famous film director and producer, he had a long career as an actor, beginning in his childhood. In the 1960s, he starred as OPIE on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
39A/30D. Nice twin clue crossing. HUEY and LOUIE are both nephews of Donald Duck.
10D. I had not seen the word UBERIZE used to refer to the direct-to-consumer technology business model, but it’s certainly apt, and it makes its debut in the New York Times Crossword.
41D. Remember when I said — some time in the past — that Monday puzzles were straightforward to make them easy to solve, and that you probably wouldn’t see good examples of wordplay (lowercase “w”) until you had pushed further into the week? Yeah, forget about that. One way to have “Brought up the rear?” is to have TWERKED.
A straightforward, Monday-level theme that should be perfect for newer solvers. It’s easy to solve, while also containing an element that should pique solvers’ interests.
If you have never seen circled squares in a crossword, they are usually there to indicate that those squares spell out a word contained within the entry itself. (Sometimes they can indicate a rebus, but you won’t see that in a Monday puzzle). Those words within the theme entries will have something to do with the overall theme of the puzzle. I realize that sounds obvious to experienced solvers, but it is not always apparent to someone picking up a crossword puzzle for the first time.
Mr. Christian offers us four phrases that contain these circled squares, and each set of circled squares spells out a country on the continent of AFRICA (the revealer at 62A). While we are at it, let us just take a moment to bless the rains there, so that the earworm we all developed courtesy of 18D (TOTO) goes away.
Oh right, the theme. At 17A, the answer to the clue “Song lyric before ‘short and stout’” is I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT. The second through fifth squares are circled, and those spell out MALI. Similarly, the circled squares in THROWING A BONE TO at 43A spell out the country of GABON.
This puzzle started as a collaboration with fellow constructor Gareth Bain. I came up with 3 of the four theme answers. Gareth came up with ALBERTO GONZALES as a 15, which I liked much better than any of the other *TOGO* answers that I had come up with. Mine were all something TO GO, TO GOLD, or TO GOD. Some of them might have been OK, but none of them really struck my fancy. So thank you Gareth for that.
One of the rejected theme answers was A HUG AND A KISS (12) for UGANDA. I liked that one, but I didn’t have another good 12 to pair with it. Also, I ended up liking the idea of having four 15’s for the theme answers, so anything that wasn’t a length 15 answer got tossed. Other rejected theme answers were REACH A DEAD END (13), REACH A DECISION (14), TO SUCH A DEGREE (13), or PATCH ADAMS (10) for CHAD.
I wanted to finish the puzzle as a collaboration with Gareth, but he dropped out. Gareth is a veterinarian in South Africa. He said he was working a lot of long hours, had too many operations to perform and very little time to construct. Gareth treats dogs that have suffered stab wounds, among other things. I think we’d all agree that that’s important work, and he was right to focus on his animal patients, rather than continue to participate in this crossword puzzle collaboration project.
I could have tried to place AFRICA (6) somewhere in the grid as the reveal in the Down direction, but I decided it would be cooler if I could get it to work in the Across direction in the bottom right corner. I tried all 24 possibilities to see which yielded the cleanest fill in the lower right corner. There are 24 ways to do it because there are four possibilities for the theme answer at 43-Across, three possibilities for the theme answer at 56-Across and AFRICA can be at either 62-Across or 65-Across. Four x three x two = 24.
Once I’d placed THROWING A BONE TO (15) at 43-Across and CHICKEN YAKITORI (15) at 56-Across, there were two ways to place the other two theme answers. I put I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT (15) at 17-Across and ALBERTO GONZALES (15) at 26-Across, because that made it possible to put UBERIZE at 10-Down, which is an entry that I really liked. It also helped with TOTO at 18-Down, which didn’t have to be in the grid, but it was fun to include that as an extra little theme tie bonus.
I have a 17-year-old daughter named Kate. “Africa” is one of her favorite songs, and she and I have seen Toto in concert together. I love you Kate.
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