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‘Flip the Bird’: Crossword Commentary

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

Play today’s crossword here.

A really tough crossword puzzle can be frustrating. Sometimes, it may get so frustrating you may start cursing out your computer screen — no shame, we’ve all been there. But today’s puzzle from Luca Morante may have you flipping the bird in more ways than one. Read on below for help with tricky clues, thoughts from Morante, and comments on the theme.


Tricky Clues

14A: My roommate, bless his soul, is learning many of my SHTICKs — which include, but are not limited to, baseball, the Eisenhower Highway System, and Harry Potter. I thank him for listening to my rants in this COVID-isolated semester.

22A: The noble gases don’t react to anything, and thus are inert, so they are sometimes called INERTS. Another week, another reminder that I don’t remember anything from AP Chemistry.

40A: This [Anthemic opening] is the beginning of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” thus “O SAY can you see…” Did you know Francis Scott Key, the poet who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is distant cousins with fellow Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald? The latter’s full name was actually Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.

65A: I’m not a sailor, despite my undying love for a good cable-knit sweater, so I was today years old when I learned that YARE refers to a boat that is easy to handle.

8D: “ISN’T She Lovely” is one of my favorite songs — Stevie Wonder wrote it about his daughter Aisha soon after she was born, and it’s at once an adorable song and a really funky tune in its own right. For your listening pleasure, here’s an a cappella cover of the song by English wunderkind Jacob Collier.


11D: As I near the end of my second semester in the Humanities Sequence, I love any reference to the Greek classics in a puzzle. A SIBYL, in this case, is any one of a number of women in Greek mythology who could predict the future.

42D: And again: A class one [Takes as a fifth course, perhaps: Abbr.] might be a class one PDFS. And even though the PDF deadline has passed, this opinion article in this paper on the merits of the PDF option is still a great read.

Today’s Theme

This particularly tricky theme will really get your nerves up, until you solve it. The revealer and title, FLIP THE BIRD, is a literal hint to the starred answers: there’s a bird within each answer that you have to flip around. For instance, the answer “Worcester” is actually in the puzzle as CROWESTER; “One variable” is ORAVENIABLE. Very tricky stuff from Morante, but it will surely be a great aha-moment if you figure it out yourself.

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Constructor Notes

First of all, a huge thank you to Gabriel Robare and Owen Travis, Head Puzzles Editors, for supporting me throughout the construction process. As a first-time crossword publisher, I am especially grateful to this section as a whole for its mutual support and unfailing enthusiasm.

I’ve been a New York Times solver for a few years now, and I have particularly appreciated themes that include embedded words, so I decided to try and take that one step further this week by exploiting a convenient double-meaning in FLIP THE BIRD. Some favorite non-themes clues are PDFS, which feels academically relevant during the COVID-19 era, and CALORE, a nod to another favored language of mine. Other University-themed answers include CHAIR, which came later in the constructing process. Good luck, and I hope you have as much fun solving as I’ve had constructing!

Still need help? See below for the answer key.