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wordplay, the crossword column

Michael Lieberman and Andrea Carla Michaels help us flex our crossword muscles.

In a black-and-white photograph, four women in bathing suits stand and balance glasses and books on their heads. An older woman checks the posture of the woman at the end of the line.
Look your best and study up to impress the subjects — or subject? — of today’s puzzle.Credit...William Vanderson/Fox Photos, via Getty Images

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MONDAY PUZZLE — Oh, you like the New York Times Crossword? Name five of its entries.

I’m kidding, of course. There’s no such litmus test for fans of our puzzles. Each day brings a new grid and fresh opportunities for fandom around a given subject or theme.

Now, if today’s crossword seems like it’s challenging your expertise in a particular domain, that’s only because its clever constructors, Michael Lieberman and Andrea Carla Michaels, designed it to do so.

Christina Iverson, a puzzle editor for The Times, said that editors were “excited to see this collaboration” from Mr. Lieberman and Ms. Michaels, both of whom are seasoned constructors. This is their first published collaboration for The Times.

Those who consider themselves “Avid fans of cinema” (63-Across) may breeze through by naming the hunks in the themed entries at 17-, 31-, 40- and 47-Across, but it’s ardent puzzle solvers who can really appreciate the cleverness of what this puzzle shows us they have in common.

The clue at 63-Across solves to MOVIE BUFFS — a term that describes both fans of films and physically fit stars who appear in them. See, for example, the buff “Hunky star of ‘Magic Mike’” (31A), CHANNING TATUM.

“The revealer made us laugh, because it was surprising and goofy and had a double meaning,” Ms. Iverson said. She also admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she had searched for images of the movie stars mentioned in the puzzle “to check on their hunkiness.”

Incidentally, the use of the term “buff” to mean overt enthusiasm or savvy is fairly new. It became popular at the turn of the 20th century as a way to describe New York City’s league of volunteer firefighters, who were called “buffs” because of the color of their uniforms, and their relentless enthusiasm for fighting blazes.

14A. I feel as if I’ve been lied to, because I didn’t realize until the solving of this clue that the “Stratosphere layer” known as the OZONE doesn’t have a real hole in it. (The word “hole” instead describes the area of critically low atmospheric concentration of ozone where more ultraviolet rays pass through; obviously, still bad.)

20A. Certain crossword traditions are worth breaking occasionally, such as the way that this common three-letter entry is clued. “Chopsticks OR A fork?” is a refreshing change from the usual fill-in-the-blank, “Singer Rita.”

37A. Language is a wonderfully funny thing. While both “Sure as shootin’ …” and this similar minced oath used to emphasize certainty, BY GUM, suggest a Western American twang, their roots tell a different story: The first is mostly attributed to English poets, while the other has its origins in Yorkshire, in northern England.

56A. How can I get mad that I stalled on a clue like “Flip one’s lid?” when its answer turns out to be the brilliantly subtle UNCAP?

9D. “What a landlubber likely lacks” is SEA LEGS, a metaphor for the ability to remain balanced in rough waters.

48D. I’d never heard of the term “Buttinskies” used to mean YENTAS, otherwise known as gossips. But it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it: They’re always buttinsky-ing in where they don’t belong.

Michael Lieberman: This puzzle has its origins at the 2023 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where we made a point of meeting each other at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Stefan Fatsis. Andrea’s excellent movie-themed puzzle — constructed with Christina Iverson — came out a few days later, and we soon started emailing about collaborating on something else movie-related, which led to this theme. Andrea wanted to include Chris Hemsworth (if not “all those Chris guys,” as she put it) and we thought we had a theme set that included him, only to realize that I had miscounted letters and had to replace Mr. Hemsworth to maintain symmetry. We’ll try to work him into our next collaboration!

Andrea Carla Michaels: I was thrilled to meet Mike, magically (Magic Mike?) on Stefan’s April Fools’ birthday. Mike’s “Lemur murmur” puzzle makes me beam every time I think about it! This all came together quickly and easily and was a hunk, a hunk o’ burning love.

Ms. Iverson will send a weekly Friday crossword with more accessible clues right to your inbox if you sign up for the Easy Mode newsletter. This extra bit of goodness is for those who would like to try the Friday puzzles but have heard all about how hard they are.

Take a look at the difference between the regular and easy-mode clues below. The links are a small sample of the clues from this Friday’s puzzle. When you click on them, you will see the version that will run in the regular puzzle as well as the easier version.

(Warning: The following are spoilers for the Friday puzzle.)


Friday clue: “It clearly divides people”

Easy-mode clue: “Material for a clear plastic divider”


Friday clue: “Second half?”

Easy-mode clue: “Second personality, like Spider-Man for Peter Parker”


Friday clue: “Rocky road ingredient?”

Easy-mode clue: “Landscaping material made up of small pebbles”

Not so tough, right? You can definitely solve Friday puzzles. You may just need some practice before you’re conquering them on your own.

To sign up for the Easy Mode newsletter, click here.

Still feeling adrift? Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

Trying to navigate to the main Gameplay page? You can find it here.

A version of this article appears in print on  , Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

A Puzzle-Making Duo With Cinematic Minds. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



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