THURSDAY PUZZLE — In English, wordplay lovers can find a number of things to keep them entertained, but even then, there is always more to discover.
This is David W. Tuffs’s fourth puzzle for The New York Times and he offers solvers an interesting tidbit that I believe I am seeing for the first time. It just goes to show you that you can always learn something, even if English is not your first language. Even if English too your first language.
15A. A little stretchy, but clever (and yes, sometimes clues can be both). “One reaching across the aisle, perhaps” sounds as if it refers to someone attempting political bipartisanship. In this puzzle, however, the BRIDE is reaching across the wedding aisle to an intended spouse.
25A. We’ve seen the entry MATHLETE before — this is the answer’s sixth appearance in the New York Times Crossword — but I think this is my favorite clue for it thus far. “Competitor with variable skills?” sounds as if it’s pointing to an athlete who competes in multiple sports, but with the question mark, that’s not quite where this is going. The word “variable” is a hint here. In math, a variable is any value that is not yet known, usually represented by a symbol such as X. So someone who is skilled with variables in a competition would be a MATHLETE.
27A. The first thing that came to mind when I read the clue “Single numbers?” was, “Wow, another math clue. This must be about single digit numbers.” But there’s wordplay here, so we need to think outside the box. Believe it or not, this is a musical clue. (It’s most likely a reference to opera, because the answer is in a foreign language). “Numbers,” or songs, that are sung by a single person are SOLI, the plural for “solo.”
55A. This one made me chuckle. “Phone-y document?” hints at a FAX, a document sent over a phone line, rather than a false or “phony” one.
66A. I’m a big fan of the regional types of Indian food — although I’m sure I have many yet to discover — so I know that a “tawa” is a round griddle used for making ROTI, the wonderfully chewy, whole wheat flatbread . If you would like to try making your own, Tejal Rao has an excellent recipe in New York Times Cooking.
4D. I really do need to memorize how to spell CTHULHU, HP Lovecraft’s monster.
7D. The “Final bid?” can be one that wins an item in an auction, but it could be the last words said before two people go their separate ways. In this puzzle, the answer is ADIEU.
Side note: There is a lot of advice on the internet about which word is the best to start with when playing Wordle. ADIEU is recommended by some, but I feel that I get further by using a word that includes some common consonants, such as R, S or T. My personal go-tos are RAISE and AROSE. For more tricks, read Gameplay’s collection of tips for playing your best game.
28D. “Predecessor of cuatro and chic?” is definitely a foreign language clue and, interestingly, it requires basic knowledge of both Spanish and French. The answer is TRES, which means “three” in Spanish and “very” in French.
52D. ROBIN, the “Boy Wonder” of the Batman franchise, makes his 11th appearance in the New York Times Crossword (since Will Shortz became crossword editor) with the misdirected clue “Bat boy?” According to Xwordinfo.com, his first appearance was in a crossword from 1966.
Mr. Tuffs has found a bit of linguistic wordplay that I think is fascinating. When certain two-word phrases in English are split and looked at individually, it turns out that the second word is the foreign language translation of the first. In fact, there is a revealer at 62A that tells us as much: The answer to the clue “Like the second word in 17-, 24-, 37-/40-, 38- and 50-Across vis-à-vis the first word” is also TRANSLATED.
The theme clues hint at the phrases as a whole, which is great misdirection in my opinion. You could fill in WITHOUT SIN at 17A because it means “Faultless, biblically,” but that bracketed “[Spanish]” at the end of the clue probably had you guessing for a while. I don’t know about you, but I was about halfway through Mr. Tuffs’s puzzle before I realized that the word SIN was the Spanish word for WITHOUT.
Let’s try another one. “Substitute on TV [Czech]” is GUEST HOST, and guess what the Czech word for GUEST is. That’s right. It’s HOST, although the Czech pronunciation does not lean as heavily on the H as the English one does.
I had fun with this one, and now I’m going to be on the lookout for more phrases where the words might be translations of each other.
“False friends” are the reason this puzzle exists. They are pairs of words in different languages that seem to be related to one another, but whose meanings are completely different. So “pan” in Spanish isn’t related to “pan” in English, and it doesn’t have anything to do with cooking vessels.
In order to find theme material for this puzzle, I went through lists of these words, which had been compiled as a cautionary tale for language learners. Whenever a “false friend” and its English meaning formed a valid phrase, I added it.
“False friends” were also invaluable in avoiding the trap of redundant translations, such as chai tea (since chai already means “tea”) and the dozens of place names meaning “river river” or “hill hill” (look up tautological place names for a very confusing read), plus “false cognates,” in which two words do have the same meaning, but through pure coincidence rather than sharing a common ancestor. In all, I’m surprised that this rigid theme had as many valid entries as it did, and even more so that almost all of them had the English and non-English words occur in the same order.
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