Question about NY Times Crossword

I just recently subscribed to the NY Times digital edition and have been trying the daily crosswords for the last few days. There seem to be some “themes” that I am not aware of, which can be confusing.

Today, for example, I started to notice some obvious answers did not fit and it turns out they are using a gimmick of sorts where some squares actually contain multiple letters. So I have two questions. One, I don’t see any warning or clue that would have alerted me to that option. Is this standard for their Sunday puzzle, or did I miss something? Two, doing the puzzle from my computer, how would I type multiple letters in a square? As soon as I type one letter it fills in and moves my cursor.

Click on the square in question and then click on ‘rebus’ at the top. This will allow you put multiple letters in a single square.

Ah! Thanks. Do they indicate anywhere that something like that will be in the puzzle, or is just being aware that it’s possible?

Usually not, but sometimes the title gives a hint. Mostly you figure it out when you’re sure you have the answer but it doesn’t fit. These gimmicks don’t really enhance the puzzle, imo, but I guess we’re stuck with it. I just want challenging puzzles with clever cluing.

Rex Parker’s long running NY Times crossword blog is both helpful and entertaining. I like to check out his response (and the commenters) after I’ve finished a puzzle.

Nice. I’ll check that out.

These most often occur on Thursday, but they occasionally find their way into Saturday or Sunday as well. Possibly other days I guess. But mainly Thursday, which is why I stopped doing Thursday puzzles.

Yes, these kinds of gimmick puzzles are called “rebus” puzzles, because in an actual rebus, pictures are used to stand for words or parts of words. If you were solving a rebus crossword on paper, you could draw a symbol or picture in one of the squares instead of multiple letters. For example, I’ve seen rebus crosswords based on Greek letters, where you could write a symbol like \pi in a square to stand for the letters PI, or \theta to stand for the letters THETA.

Here’s a recent thread about these sorts of crosswords (which, as @Maserschmidt notes, the NYT tends to run on Thursdays and some Sundays). As you can see from this thread, some solvers love these, some hate them.

Saturdays have long been my favorite edition of the Times puzzle, but has anyone else noticed that they’ve become much easier to solve? I know I haven’t gotten any smarter, so something has changed. I really wonder why.

I’ve only recently started to do the Saturday puzzles and I thought I was just getting good enough to solve them in a reasonable amount of time, but yes, some weeks, they seem quite easy.

As for the rebus puzzle today, that’s one of gimmicks to look out for, especially on Thursdays or Sundays. No, there’s no advance warning that such a thing is going to be present. That’s part of the challenge.

Usually gimmicks like that are only Thursday or Sunday, but the one I did this Wednesday (which is on either a two or three week delay) also had rebus squares.

Thursday can also have gimmicks like answers spanning black squares, or changing direction at a corner, or the like. While Sundays often have some degree of gimmickry, they’re usually a bit tamer than Thursdays.

Thursdays are my favorite for that reason, but if you just want a straight-ahead crossword puzzle, best to skip.

It’s rare for me to see a “rebus” outside a Thursday. I think I’ve seen them in a Sunday, but I don’t do a lot of Sundays as they are just too much for me.

Yes. Fridays and Saturdays have absolutely gotten easier. I’ve only started doing these daily about four years ago, and I know I’ve gotten much better, but the puzzles really do feel a lot easier. I go back in the archive just ten years or so and I am completely lost on Fridays and Saturdays.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the only type of gimmick puzzle. Another variant that comes to mind is one where answers are longer than the space provided because they take a turn into other words to form even longer ones.

Also, puns involving the omission of letters, or extra letters

Absolutely. You have to think quite “outside the box,” so to speak, with Thursdays sometimes. That’s why I love them! It’s fun when I encounter a gimmick I haven’t seen before.

One of the problems I have with ‘rebus’ puzzles is the quality. So much effort goes into the oh-so-clever theme that the cluing gets neglected. The fills today were a little too easy.


I worked down the left side today and the ‘designated driver’ and ‘signature’ cross was too simple, making the rebus obvious. I mean, what else could the answer be to those clues? Oh, gnat. Oh, step on it. Ha ha ha ha ha. Erg.

I have seen some clever nytimes puzzles with the rebus gimmick. I really should bookmark these things.

Eh, a gimmick puzzle kind of needs some easy fill, to give you a chance to solve it.

This response confused me, because I’ve been using the NYT puzzle app on my phone for over a year, and have never seen a title. Usually it just shows the date and puzzle creator.

So I went back and looked at today’s Sunday puzzle, and once you are in the puzzle there is a little (i) icon at the top, and you click on that and it shows you the puzzle title. Never noticed that before. :man_facepalming:t2:

Actually, let me amend that. What a gimmick crossword needs isn’t easy fill; it’s unambiguous fill. “Classical war god” or “Bygone Russian autocrat” are easy, but they’re both ambiguous: You’re left unsure of whether you should have ARES or MARS, and TSAR or CZAR. So if you see one of the gimmick clues not working, you’re not sure if it’s because of the gimmick, or because you made the wrong pick. On the other hand, the actor who played a particular role on an obscure 80s sitcom is difficult, but if you know it, you know it absolutely definitely.

Hint: NYT tends to use TSAR for the Russian ruler and CZAR for stuff like drug czar. Why? I dunno but it almost always TSAR from my experience with the ruler.

Usually, yes. Though I’ve even seen “TZAR” once. The point is, though, that some clues are ambiguous (often deliberately so: It’d be easy enough to specify “Greek” or “Roman” for the war god, for instance). Some ambiguity is OK, since it’ll be resolved by the crossing answers, as long as it’s not too much. And the threshold for “too much” is lower for a gimmick puzzle.