Hair-Highlighting Technique

Hair-Highlighting Technique

FRIDAY PUZZLE — Let’s say that you are trying to improve your solving, and you have managed to push yourself to the point where themed puzzles are starting to become a little ho-hum. Sure, Thursday themes are fun, but do you have the moxie to make the leap into Friday themeless crossword fare, which happens to be the second-hardest puzzle of the week?

Of course you do. There is nothing to be scared of here. In fact, this crossword by Erik Agard and Brooke Husic is a good way to make that leap. Their grid may look a bit different because it uses mirror symmetry (as opposed to diagonal symmetry), but you’ve probably seen that before. The clues are more difficult, but there’s nothing here that you can’t handle, even if you don’t solve it in one straight shot or need the crossings to help.

You’ve got this.

Let’s take a closer look at this puzzle after the spoiler alert.

First, I’d just like to say that this puzzle had me at 20A’s WEIGHTED BLANKET. I love mine, and I sleep so much better because of it. The theory behind the blanket is that slight pressure on the body can help soothe the nerves and reduce anxiety. You also get a decent workout when trying to fold or carry it to and from the washing machine.

WEIGHTED BLANKET is paired with 51A’s HEAVY SECURITY to form a punny “themelet,” which is not expected on a Friday but gives the puzzle an elegant touch.

The best part of solving a themeless puzzle is that the lack of theme gives the constructor more room to include long, sparkly entries, such as STREET FOOD, CANDY HEART, IN ABSENTIA, HASHTAGS and BALAYAGE. I knew about the hair-highlighting technique but struggled to get the entire word out of my brain and into the puzzle: “AGE … BAYAGE … BALAYAGE!” Thank goodness for kind crossings.

17A. In this puzzle, the “Musical group” is not a band but a classification. The answer is ALTOS.

23A. If you haven’t yet seen the 2019 movie “Parasite,” please stop what you are doing, find it on a streaming platform and watch it now. The film is disturbing but brilliant. The actress LEE Jung-eun played the role of the housekeeper, Moon-gwang.

24A. A synonymic phrase for the clue “‘Word is …’” is THEY SAY, and yes, of course I will play you a song from “Hamilton” that begins with that entry.

36A. I will freely admit that I looked this one up. I’m not sorry because it involves Latin, and it’s Friday. I cut myself a lot of slack on Fridays, and I can’t recommend doing so enough. The family Leporidae consists of rabbits and HARES.

44A. Clever one. “Office binder?” sounds as if we are supposed to think about a cover or notebook that holds a report, but this clue is about binding, as in preventing someone from getting anything done. The answer is RED TAPE.

1D. I love riddle clues. “Item often wrapped after it’s purchased” is a SHAWL.

4D. If there were things I needed to learn as a child that were not included in my formal education, I could always rely on Monty Python to fill in the gaps. I first learned the word SNOG from the group’s “Most Awful Family in Britain” sketch — which I would love to post, but the family truly was awful.

29D. Wow, this was a tough one. “Make a lead balloon?” sounds as if we are making something that won’t fly because it’s made out of lead (pronounced “lehd”), but we’re not even in the neighborhood with that assumption. The word “lead” (pronounced “leed”) in this clue means to be ahead, and “balloon” means to expand or grow bigger. So “Make a lead balloon?” really means to RACE AHEAD.

33D. “Style points?” is not about fashion advice, it’s about the points on the heels of STILETTOS.

The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.

For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”

Almost finished solving, but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.

Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.

Your thoughts?

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