Crossword Puzzle
 
When you click on the link above or the picture of the puzzle below, you will be transferred to the Newsday Crossword page.  Once on that page, the "?" will provide help to explain how to make entries in the puzzle.  The description that follows:  "All About the Newsday Crossword" introduces you to Newsday Crosswords edited by Stanley Newman, member of Rotary Boca Raton Sunset.  Enjoy!
 
 
 
All About the Newsday Crossword
by Stanley Newman
 
Most Importantly
 
The Monday-to-Saturday Newsday Crosswords get more difficult as the week goes on.  This is deliberately done to give fans at all skill levels something just right for them each week.  It also is intended to give a clear path for puzzlers to improve their skills.
 
The Mondays and Tuesdays are among the easiest puzzles appearing in American newspapers today.  These are designed to be doable by people who have never done crosswords before (anyone with a high-school education or equivalent), and for parents and teens to work on together.  The Tuesdays are only slightly more difficult than the Mondays.  Many solvers might not even be able to detect a difference.
 
Wednesdays are noticeably (but not a lot) more challenging than Mondays and Tuesdays, Thursdays more so, Fridays even more so.  The increasing difficulty is due almost entirely to the clues, which are likely to have more multiple possible answers or wordplay trickery. 
 
Then there are the weekly Saturday Stumpers, quite a bit tougher than the Fridays.  So much so, that the Newsday Saturday Stumpers are universally acknowledged by crossword experts as the most difficult puzzles appearing in American newspapers today.  Yes, even more difficult than the Saturday puzzles in a certain venerable Big Apple daily.
 
The Newsday Sunday Crosswords, though larger, are of medium difficulty each week—approximately at a Wednesday-to-Thursday level.
 
 
What Newbies Need to Know
 
Unlike virtually every other game you can think of, crosswords have never come with a set of instructions.  Publishers have always seemed to assume that readers would know what to do and how to do it.
 
Having met thousands of puzzle fans over the past 25 years, I know that most crossworders have indeed figured things out for themselves, developing their own procedures and rituals for getting those little white boxes filled in. 
 
But the first steps are not always obvious to neophytes.  There are a number of basic rules and tips that every crossword fan should know.  If you’re just getting started, keeping this “beginner’s guide” handy while you’re solving crosswords will undoubtedly make your puzzle experiences smoother, more pleasurable and more mentally stimulating.
 
FIRST OF ALL
Always look at the puzzle title before doing anything else.  For all days except Saturdays, the title is there to give you a subtle hint about the theme of the puzzle—the subject matter or the common element among the longest answers.  When you have filled in the first long answer, take another look at the title; you should be able to make a guess now as to what the theme is.   Once you have correctly identified the theme, the remaining theme answers should be much easier for you to puzzle out.
 
Here are some of my favorite puzzle titles that cleverly (and not too obviously) hint at the themes:
 
“What’s on Today?”
This might sound like a puzzle about TV shows, but the theme answers were all phrases that included an article of clothing, like COATS OF ARMS and BRAKE SHOES.
 
“Falling Leaves”
This one had nothing to do with leaves on trees.  The theme answers, all reading Down (the “falling” part of the title), were all different senses of the verb “leaves,” like:
 
n  Leaves, as a hotel guest: CHECKS OUT
n  Leaves, as a rocket ship: BLASTS OFF
 
“The Great ‘S’-Cape”
This puzzle was all about Superman, with answers like X-RAY VISION and KRYPTONITE.
 
WHERE TO START INSIDE THE PUZZLE
The first answer you should write in a crossword should always be one whose clue you are absolutely sure of.  This may be the very first clue in a puzzle (1 Across), but crossword creators and editors don’t automatically make the first clue the easiest one.  Of course, people’s vocabulary and knowledge differ anyway.  So review the clue list carefully until you find one that you have no doubt is correct, and fill that in first.
 
Why is that so important?  Because, if you’re sure that first answer is correct, you know that every letter in that answer gives you one letter in each of the answers that cross it.
 
In the “gentle challenges” of Mondays and Tuesdays, there should be quite a few clues whose answers you’ll recognize right away.  Later on in the weekdays (through Friday), there will be fewer easy clues, but you’ll find them if you look carefully.
 
What makes a clue easy?  Both the clue and the answer play a part.  An “easy” clue is one that points you clearly and unambiguously toward the answer.  The clue “Type of fruit” might sound easy, but if the answer is a five-letter word, say, and you have no letters in the answer already filled in, the answer might be LEMON, APPLE, GRAPE or one of several others.  A clue that’s unambiguously easy has only one possibility.  So, if the answer is LEMON, the clue “Sour citrus fruit” is clearly much easier than “Type of fruit”.  Clues like these are hallmarks of Monday and Tuesday Newsday Crosswords.
 
Of course, it won’t matter if a clue is clear if the answer is a word you don’t know.  That’s why Mondays and Tuesdays have all “easy” answers, common words that everyone knows.  You might be surprised to learn that people who create crosswords find it more difficult to make easy crosswords than hard ones.  That’s because, if the answer words are all to be genuinely easy, there is a far smaller base of words to pick from.  And with fewer words to pick from, the job of getting words to fit in a diagram is that much more difficult.  So, in its own way, creating a crossword is just another way of “solving” one.
 
Also, there are very few proper names in Mondays and Tuesdays (people, places, book titles, etc.).  The ones that do appear should be well-known to virtually all, such as “Capital of Italy” (ROME) and “Actor Alda of M*A*S*H” (ALAN).
 
WHAT TO DO NEXT
The clues to look at next are the ones that you know have those one-letter hints about.  It’s much easier to think of the answer once you have one or more of its letters written in.
 
KEEPING YOUR TRIP SMOOTH
Your solving will be smoother and faster if you are able to concentrate on one area of the puzzle at a time, with each new answer you write connected to answers you’ve already filled in.  If you’re unable to fill in any answers in the area you’re working in, look for another clue you’re sure of elsewhere in the crossword and begin the process again.
 
IF YOU GET STUCK
If you’ve written in all the answers you can and some blank squares still remain, here are three of my favorite methods for getting “unstuck”:
-- Put the puzzle down, and come back to it later, tomorrow, or some other time.  Many crossworders find if they take a break from a puzzle then take a “fresh look” at it later on, they’re able to come up with answers that didn’t occur to them before.
-- You may be stuck because you have one or more incorrect answers filled in.  So try erasing one or more answers that you may be “less than sure” of, and take another look at the area with the answers you’ve just erased.
-- It’s completely OK to “get help”: looking up a word in your dictionary, looking up a fact in your encyclopedia or on the Internet, or even taking a peek at the answer.  No, it’s NOT cheating!  An important part of the educational benefits of crossword solving come from learning new words and facts.
 
A FEW ADDITIONAL TIPS
-- Don’t solve crosswords in pen unless it’s an erasable pen, or you never make mistakes.
-- When you’re done, always check your answers with the printed solution.  If you’ve never done this before, you may be surprised how often you discover certain answers you’ve filled in aren’t correct.
-- The best crossword solvers have an insatiable curiosity.  Always look up any new words you encounter in your crosswords, and use unfamiliar facts as a springboard to learn more about new subjects.  Your brain will thank you, and your increasing knowledge will undoubtedly improve your solving skill.
 
 
 
Tips From My “Unwritten Contract” With You
 
Although I’ve never written them all down before, there are a number of rules that I follow in preparing the Newsday Crosswords for publication, which I hope you’ll be gratified to know, and will find helpful in your solving.
 
 
For The Clues
 
Accuracy
Every clue must accurately define or describe its answer.  If, for example, the answer is a plural noun, the clue must indicate that a plural is called for.  Clues containing factual information must be correct in every detail.   As a rule of thumb, any lowercase puzzle answer and its clue should be able to be used interchangeably in a sentence.
 
Of course, this doesn’t mean clues can’t be tricky, or even intentionally misleading, as many clues for tougher crosswords are.
 
Variety
In the early years of crossword history (the 1910s through the 1930s), virtually all puzzle answers were single, uncapitalized words, and only “dictionary-style” definitions were allowed for them.  These days there are colloquial terms, factual information, etc.  That variety certainly “spices up” crossword solving in a way that I think makes for a more entertaining experience.  You may not have noticed, but no Newsday Crossword has two consecutive clues having only one word.  This prevents the clue list (or their look) from getting too humdrum.
 
Topical Balance
Since the Newsday Crosswords audience is diverse in every demographic way, there is almost never more than a single non-theme clue on a particular topical area, such as baseball, or opera, or literature, or TV sitcoms, to name just a few.  Likewise, there is always a balance in a puzzle’s factual clues between “academic” subjects (geography, science, etc.) and “popular culture” subjects (current events, films, etc.).   
 
No Faded or Overly Esoteric Facts
Popular culture is ever-shifting, and there are many people, places and things that were very well-known some years ago, but hardly ever seen or heard today.  That’s why, as far as Tonight Show hosts go, Jay LENO is seen in Newsday Crosswords regularly, but never Jack PAAR.  Likewise, topical experts or people who do crosswords other than mine may be quite familiar with people like Felipe ALOU of baseball and UNA Merkel of 1930s films.  But even though the spelling of their names make them convenient for puzzle authors, you’ll never see them in Newsday Crosswords.
 
Other No-Nos
You’ll never see a dictionary word defined with a synonym very few people will know, such as “Transude” for SEEP.  Similarly, you’ll never see a clue about a fact that clearly isn’t worth knowing.  There happens to be a town in Utah called Loa, whose current population is about 500.  Although many might welcome a new alternative to the clue “Mauna __,” a “useless” fact like this is a big, big no-no for the Newsday Crossword.
 
For the Answers
 
99+% “Everyday” Words
The answers in Monday-Wednesday puzzles are always words that everyone knows or should know   For any other day, there should never be more than a handful of reasonably described as “hard.”  So, if you ever get stuck on a clue, you should assume the answer is a word that you probably know.
 
Theme Subject Matter
Themes of Newsday Crosswords are always of general interest, not requiring overly specialized factual knowledge to understand or appreciate.
 
Theme Keywords Consistency
There are two types of this.  In a theme containing phrases with single words that have something in common, those keywords will almost always be in the same place in the phrase, either all at the beginning or all at the end. 
 
Example: watch like a HAWK, as wise as an OWL, fly like an EAGLE
 
The only exception: Where there are four theme answers, you might see two at the start and two at the end.  But never “all but one” in one place and one in the other.
 
The other type of theme consistency is “direct” versus “indirect” treatment of theme keywords.   The keywords of a “direct” theme have the same meaning as what they have in common, such as the bird example above.  An “indirect theme” uses phrases containing keywords used differently from what they have in common.  Such as this “Salon Service” theme:  crime WAVE, budget CUT, local COLOR and dance STYLE.
 
Newsday Crosswords never mix “direct” and “indirect” of treatments.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Saturday Stumper
 
While the Monday-through-Saturday Newsday Crosswords get more difficult through each week, the “difficulty gap” between Friday and Saturday is the widest of the week.  In other words, Saturdays are quite a bit tougher than Fridays.  In some ways, Stumpers “play” by a different set of rules from the other days of the week. So this section is intended to will give you insight into what Stumpers are all about, let you in on the devilish devices that are used to toughen them up, and show you how to build your own self-study course that will put you on the road to conquering the toughest crosswords that appear in American newspapers today.
 
What Makes the Stumpers Tough?
 
Several factors combine to make them so:
 
-- In themed crosswords, the longest answers always have some sort of common relationship, and getting the first theme answer will give often give you a useful hint about the remaining ones.  The titles of themed puzzles are meant to assist you in figuring out the theme as well.   With themeless crosswords, you get none of this help.
 
-- Compared to the Monday-through-Friday crosswords, there are more longer words and fewer shorter words.  Longer words are harder to think of than shorter ones just because they’re longer, and getting a letter or two of a 10-letter word, for example, will much less of a help to you than a letter or two of a five-letter word.
 
-- Unlike easier crosswords, there will be very few clues whose answers will be obvious to you right off the bat. 
 
It’s also worth mentioning how these puzzles aren’t made difficult: by using “uninteresting obscurities” in clues and answers.  This means that you’ll never see unusual words in the clues, and well over 99% of the time, Stumper answers will be words that you know, or are worth knowing.
 
 
What Makes Easy Clues Easy
 
This brief digression is a useful preface to what follows.
 
Let’s say that the answer to 1 Across is PINE.    If this were to be an easy crossword, two possible clues might be “Type of tree with cones” and “Household cleaner scent.”  Both of these clues point to the answer in a direct, unambiguous way, as the clues for easy puzzles should always do.
 
Do you see why “with cones” was included as part of the first clue?  Because otherwise, the clue would just be “Type of tree,” and while this isn’t tricky in any way, there are many, many types of trees spelled with four letters.  So, adding “with cones” eliminates every type of tree other than the pine from your mental list of possible answers.
 
As for the second clue, I started it with “Household” because the first word of “Cleaner scent” could be misinterpreted as an adjective (the comparative form of “clean”) instead of the noun that we intend it to be.  Placing “Household” in front prevents any such unintentional confusion.
 
 
Tough Clues 101
 
Now, we’ll turn this reasoning around.  Let’s say I’m writing the clues for a tough crossword, and 1 Across is PINE.   Besides “Type of tree,” “Long” (meant as a verb) would also be a difficult clue for PINE, even though it’s a straightforward synonym. That’s because “long” has many different meanings, and can be different parts of speech as well-- an adjective, verb, or noun.
 
It’s not only words but also common phrases that can have multiple meanings.  For example, “Strike out” can mean “fail,” “erase,” or “begin.”
 
Multiple-meaning clues can be especially devious at times, when they’re phrased in such a way to make you think they have only one possible interpretation, when in fact there’s another.  I call these nasties “Deliberate Misdirection” (DM) which I liken to the red herrings commonly tossed about in mystery novels, to distract you from what’s really going on.
 
Here are the devices commonly used in DM clues:
 
-- Grammatical Ambiguity
The grammatical form of the answer can be disguised by using verbs like “set,” “put” and “quit,” whose present and past tenses are identical.  Nouns like “fish,” “sheep,” and “series,” whose singular and plural forms are identical, are often used as well.  There are also ways to make an answer that’s a certain part of speech seem like another.  “Dashing” can be a form of the verb “dash,” but it can also be an adjective meaning “stylish” or “energetic.”
 
-- The Idiom Gambit
I love finding well-known English idiomatic phrases that always have one specific meaning, “pulling them apart” for the literal meaning of their individual words, then “putting them back together” to interpret literally for the clue.
 
Consider the idiom “Well fixed,” which the dictionary tells us means “prosperous.”  Taking the words in that phrase literally, it could mean “repaired in an excellent manner,” which is precisely how I once used “Well fixed” to clue the answer GOOD AS NEW.
 
-- Double Trouble
Two-word phrases where neither word is taken at its “face value” can be especially devious.  The clue “Fine skipper” sounds like “Excellent ship’s captain.”  But “Fine” can also be a noun (a monetary penalty) rather than an adjective, and “skipper” can mean “one who skips” as well as a captain.  If both words in “Fine skipper” were to be interpreted in their less-than-obvious ways, the clue would mean “Some who skips paying a monetary penalty,’’ and the answer would likely be SCOFFLAW.
 
Pretty mean stuff, huh?
 
The good news for you, the solver, is that even the most difficult crosswords will have more than a handful of DM clues like these, because they’re extremely difficult to devise.  But nearly all Stumpers will have a few of them, and you should always be on the lookout for them.
 
“Stumperizing” Factual Clues
 
Remembering that nearly all factual answers appearing in Stumpers are words you’re likely to know, you need to be prepared for Stumper clues with factual answers going in new, unexpected directions.  A couple of examples:
 
-- AMES is most often defined in other days’ Newsday Crosswords straightforwardly, as “City in Iowa” or something similar.  To toughen that up for a recent Stumper, the clue was “It’s between Minneapolis and Kansas City on I-35.”   Of course, most people aren’t likely to know that there even is an I-35 highway, much less what cities are along its route.   But the way the question is worded makes clear that the answer is somewhere between Minnesota and Missouri, which is intended to give anyone with a basic knowledge of U.S. geography (which all solvers should have) the initial hint that it’s in the Midwest.
 
-- The usual clues for ABE refer either to President Lincoln or the father of Homer Simpson.  A recent rather mean Stumper clue for ABE was “. . . Frank, Jimmy, __, Sir Veto, . . . “   The inclusion of the nicknames “Frank” and “Jimmy” was meant to suggest that the answer would likewise be a nickname.  “Sir Veto” was intended to signal that these were nicknames of presidents.  Put those two hints together with the knowledge of U.S. presidents, and one could discern that “Frank” was a nickname for Franklin Pierce, “Jimmy” for James Buchanan (both nicknames were actually used in their time), so the name to “fill in the blank” would need to be a nickname for the president who followed Buchanan.  And yes, “Sir Veto” was a nickname for Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.
 
It’s always the intention in a Stumper for a clue to a factual answer to be something that can be “puzzled out” with general knowledge only, even if the clue itself might be dealing with a specific fact or facts you’re not familiar with. 
 
In the case of the one or two Stumper answers that are harder “vocabulary words” or facts that many people might not know, these will always be clued “straight,” with no attempt at wordplay or factual trickery.
 
 
Your Personalized Self-Study Course
 
Step 1: Master the Techniques
 
If you’ve never completed (or even attempted) a Saturday Stumper, here’s how to get started.
 
The first step to gain a thorough understanding of all the “toughening-up” devices presented here.  The most effective way of achieving this is to review every clue and answer for a bunch of Saturday Stumpers, perhaps for a month or two.
 
So you’ll need to have the answer to each Stumper with you, obtainable either from the following Monday’s paper, or from the “Print Solution” option for the online version.  In other words, don’t even try to solve any Stumper at first. 
 
Starting with 1 Across, look at each clue, then its corresponding answer. Before you move on to the next clue, be sure of two things: that you understand how the clue leads to the answer, and you understand how and why the clue is difficult or tricky.  If, after a few moments, you still don’t “get” a particular clue, you should consult an appropriate reference source (dictionary, encyclopedia, Internet, etc.).  This last step is crucially important!   Even if you’re not in the habit of looking up clues, you must not skip over a clue if you don’t understand it.
 
Once you do complete this exercise diligently for five or so puzzles, you’ll have a depth of insight about what makes tough crosswords tough that can’t be obtained any other way.
 
Step 2:  Try a Stumper
 
I suggest that your first Saturday solving attempt be on a Stumper with the byline “Lester Ruff,” which usually appears once per month.  These Stumpers are always less difficult than those of other authors.  SECRET REVEALED: Lester Ruff is a pseudonym for yours truly.  Why that name?  Because he’s known to all his friends as “Les Ruff.”
 
But before you pick up your pencil, you should first review all the clues--without looking at the answers this time.  What you’re looking to do is: not necessarily figure out any answers, but zero in on which of the techniques you’ve learned is being used for each clue.  Remember to be suspicious of the obvious meaning of every clue on the page.
 
When you’ve completed your clue review, then start solving by filling in any answer anywhere in the puzzle that you think you know.  If you’re having trouble getting started, here are a few tricks that experienced solvers use:
 
-- The comparative and superlative forms of adjectives (usually ending in –ER and –EST) are very difficult for clue writers to disguise.  An adjective ending with –ER will usually have a word like “More” or “Comparatively,” paired with a synonym of the answer.  “Less” followed by antonym of the answer is also common, such as “Less iffy” for SURER.   So, even if you don’t know the full answer to a clue like this, you will be pretty safe in filling in –ER or –EST at the word’s end.
 
-- If the answers to two clues cross on their last letter, and they both appear to be plurals, it’s highly likely that the last letter of both words will be S.
 
-- The bottom row Across of every crossword consists entirely of letters that end Down words.  The letters most likely to end English words are S, D, R, E and T.  That’s why you’ll often see answers like REAL ESTATE, SESAME SEED and STRESS TEST on the bottom row of themeless puzzles.  So have those letters in mind as you examine the last-row clues.  This technique also applies to the rightmost column of every crossword, where every letter of the Down words must end a word Across.
 
Step 3:  Chart Your Progress, and Learn from Each Puzzle
 
If you get stuck anywhere in the solving process, be sure to get help!  “Help” might be looking up just one answer, or looking up the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  You’ll often find that just one additional word will be enough for you to figure out many more words yourself.  But it’s OK to look things up as much as you want.
 
What’s important is that you don’t go on to the next Stumper until you understand all the clues of the current one.  So be sure to complete the puzzle, no matter how many hints you need to give yourself.  Then, review each clue and answer as in Step 1, to extract all the information you can, for you to use in the future.  Chart your progress by keeping track of how many “hints” you needed to give yourself.
 
Even if you can’t fill in a single letter in the first Stumper you try without help, you’ve made progress if you’ve correctly identified the “gimmick” behind even one clue. 
 
 
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3
 
If you continue to do Stumpers in this manner, you will see a steady improvement in your skills?  No other result is possible!   The more familiar you are with the tricks and techniques used in these puzzles, the better you’ll do.  Follow this plan diligently, and you also be learning new words, new meanings of words, and new facts along the way.  And that will surely improve your ability to complete any crossword, no matter how tough it is.
 
Final Words
 
Many solvers I’ve spoken to would never look up a puzzle answer they don’t know.  That’s their privilege, but I can tell you that, a year from now, their solving skills will be at the same level that they are today.
 
If you have even the slightest notion that it’s “cheating” to look up an answer, banish it from your mind immediately.  As your teacher and “crossword coach,” I can tell you with complete confidence that, not only is it “not cheating,” learning the things you don’t know is the only proven path to puzzle-solving improvement.
 
So, I wish you well in your quest to conquer Saturday Stumpers.  Stick with the methods I’ve outlined here, and you’ll not only start to see progress, you’ll get a wonderful feeling every time you apply something you’ve learned to crack a tough clue.
 
Remember this: While you might think of a Saturday Stumper as a battle between yourself and the puzzle author, it’s a battle that I, the editor, would really prefer that you win.  Honest!
 
Good luck!