Saturday, October 1

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‘A Formal Occasion’: Crossword Commentary

Hints and commentary on tricky clues and the puzzle’s theme and comments from the constructor

Illustration for "A Formal Occasion" crossword commentary
Illustration for "A Formal Occasion" crossword commentary

Play this week’s crossword here.

Do you remember what it was like when we had to put on pants and ties and whatall to go to some fancy party? I barely can recall what that was like — Zoom is all I know, now. Owen Travis asks for us to remember those halcyon days in “A Formal Occasion.” The theme — once you figure it out — will make you groan, then make you feel underdressed.


Read on below for help on tricky clues, thoughts on the theme, and notes from Travis.

Tricky Clues

10A: If you’re struggling with this clue, take a glance down at your keyboard: CTRL is a “key” which is “part of some shortcuts.” Tricky.

19A: This is what we call in the crossword industry a “misdirect.” The clue [Twins, e.g.] seems to refer to a tough parenting situation, but it in fact refers to something altogether unexpected: BEDS.

47A: “Stan,” the song by Eminem off 2000’s “The Marshall Mathers LP,” is, some two decades after its release, the origin of the modern slang term meaning FAN.

71A: Fans of the universal basic income — or those in the “YANG gang” — will enjoy the misdirect in this clue.


3D: Check your Morse code knowledge: three dots, three dashes, then three dots is SOS.

6D: Paul McCartney made a surprise appearance in a songwriting class earlier this week, but before he was a part-time professor at Princeton, Paul, along with his bandmates John, George, and Ringo, was a BEATLE.

37D: OREOS are called The New York Times crossword’s favorite cookie — you’ll see them in puzzles all the time because the word is packed with vowels and common letters. In addition to being the crossword’s favorite cookie, they are also, as it happens, this writer’s favorite cookie.

52D: When I first solved this puzzle, I had the first H and couldn’t think of any answer to this question other than the obvious HOMER. But I should have been thinking more modern: HONDA makes Odyssey vans.

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65D: Too much time by the KEG might land you at McCosh HEALTH Center (found in this puzzle at 32-Across).

Today’s Theme

After I finished this puzzle, I sent the following text to Travis, edited slightly for the profanity I used: “You loser! That theme is so stupid while also being so good.”

And indeed, the pun work in this theme will make you groan but then laugh. The revealer is at 40-Across: BOW TIES. The other four theme answers all have bow ties, in a way. At 17-Across, PASTA SALAD has bow-tie pasta. Over at 26-Across, a LIFESAVER ties to the bow of a boat, and thus has bow ties, and so on.

While I groan — I laugh too. What a theme from Travis.

Constructor Notes

I really enjoy puzzles that rely heavily on what is known as the “revealer.” In this case, the theme answers seem to have nothing in common with each other; that is, until you land on BOW TIES, the revealer that makes it all click into place.

At least, that’s the idea. Looking back at this puzzle, which I made almost a year ago, I’m rolling my eyes at all these terrible “bow” puns. Also me, looking back at the clues:

“Wait, they’re all pop culture references?”

“Always have been.”

Still need help? See below for the answer key.

Solution image for "A Formal Occasion" crossword puzzle