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THURSDAY PUZZLE — Crossword constructors come from nearly every walk of life, but how they began solving and creating puzzles is always of interest to me. I like to hear people’s stories, and Esha Datta’s is one I relate to deeply.
Ms. Datta is the mother of three young children. She made the leap from solver to constructor as a way of finding “me time” after a couple of years of Covid parenthood.
“In 2016, Erin Rhode, a college classmate of my husband’s, had a puzzle published in The New York Times,” Ms. Datta said. “Before that, I hadn’t even stopped to consider that a regular person could make a puzzle.”
My own kids were already grown when the pandemic began, but when they were little, I, too, discovered that constructing crosswords was a great way to stimulate my brain after a full day of “Pokémon” and “Sesame Street” (although I did look forward to “Teletubbies” — some of my best naps were taken during that show).
It doesn’t really matter how you arrive at the point where you want to learn to make puzzles, but finding someone who traveled the same path you did is comforting. It feels as if a friend whom you have a lot in common with has just walked into the room.
Ms. Datta was also a member of the second class of the Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship, which will resonate with aspiring constructors from underrepresented groups.
She applied in early 2022, she said, as part of a New Year’s resolution to make and submit a crossword to The New York Times. Ms. Datta didn’t make the final cut that year, but she participated in the seminars, and in 2023, she was chosen for the second cohort.
“On a personal note,” Ms. Datta continued, “in my original application, I wrote a lot about my father’s influence on my love of puzzles and wordplay, and a big part of the dream was writing about him in my constructor notes and surprising him with it.
“Though he passed away very suddenly in May 2022,” she added, “I am glad that I am still able to give him credit in the Wordplay column.”
The Games editors are reviewing applications for the third fellowship class, and I look forward to solving the new fellows’ puzzles as well.
You probably haven’t realized this about me, but I’m a fairly verbose person. I also primarily work from home, so most of my meetings are conducted via video chat. And those usually begin with someone saying, “Deb, YOU’RE ON MUTE.” So you can imagine that, besides the young-mother thing that I mentioned above, I felt absolutely seen by Ms. Datta.
There are four theme entries, and at first glance, they don’t match their clues. For example, the entry at 17A is BEANSTALK, but the clue is “Chili ingredients.” Similarly, at 26A, MAGIC HAT is supposed to be the answer to “Three wise men.”
We clearly have more work to do. What if we move a letter (or two in the case of 50A) and change the entries to BEANS TALK and MAGI CHAT? That sort of moves us closer to the YOU’RE ON MUTE revealer at 35A, but it’s not a direct line from clue to entry.
Tell you what: Let’s also ignore — or mute — the talking word in each theme entry. BEANS makes much more sense as an answer to “Chili ingredients,” and MAGI are the “Three wise men.”
If there’s no chitchat going on, we are most likely ON MUTE.
Very clever, Ms. Datta. And as a 2024 New Year’s resolution, I promise I will try to remember to turn my mic on in meetings.
21A. This would make an interesting trivia answer: The only country with a nonrectangular flag is NEPAL. It is made up of two penons, which is the vexillologic term for “pennant.”
31A. The “hand” that the clue suggests we are giving is not applause. We are DEALING a hand of cards.
4D. I’m sorry, I don’t understand this one. It says that “Ice cream units” are PINTS, but we all know that the only reasonable ice cream unit is a quart.
35D. The “Collection of senior moments?” is not one of the discussions between my husband and me that contains absolutely no proper nouns whatsoever. It’s a YEARBOOK, which shows photos of seniors in their last year of school.
I’ve worked remotely since March 2020, and this puzzle was inspired by that time, when so many of us were trying to figure out Zoom etiquette while also monitoring school at home, wiping down groceries and baking lots of muffins.
Being part of the Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship was so much fun! Thank you to the editors, the fellows and especially Joel Fagliano, for his guidance and encouragement. I applied for the fellowship two weeks after my third baby was born, and I am excited to take my first step as a crossword creator just as she is beginning to take her first steps.
My children made a clear mark on this puzzle — 21A is a fact I learned from my vexillologist 6-year-old son, 13D is a song that my 4-year-old daughter belts regularly and 28A is my baby’s usual activity. Special thanks to my husband, who sparked my interest in crosswords when we started solving them together.
My father, whose love for wordplay was unmatched, was the greatest inspiration for this endeavor. I think he would have gotten a big kick out of seeing this puzzle in the paper.
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