After the previous week’s puzzle that required a bit of Spanish, this week I gave you a puzzle in which it was pretty clear from the title (French for “strange exchange”) that there was going to be French involved. The meta instructions asked for a plural that’s five letters in English. Here’s how to get there:
Depending on whether you solved the hard or easier version, you either got a subtle hint, or explicit instructions, that the CORNERS were important. How that worked was that each corner of the grid began or ended one entry that you could turn into a French word by removing one letter. Scattered throughout the rest of the grid were partners for those entries that, by taking on the discarded letters, could become an English synonym for the French word. So for example, 1-across LYCHEE loses the H to become lycee, which translates to school, which is 52-down ‘SCOOL with an H inserted into it. Similarly:
B(O)ON -> G(O)OD
AMI(N)E -> FRIE(N)D
MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT
In grid order, those four “exchanged” letters spell out HONS, which is neither a five-letter English plural nor is it a French word (unless you want to translate it as “sounds repeated by stereotypical laughing Frenchmen like Maurice Chevalier“). What next? If you did the easier version you had a hint to go back to 39-across and consider it as another theme entry, and if you did that you saw that if we take the second R out of CORNERS, we are left with cornes, which in French means horns, which of course is HONS with an R inserted into it, so HORNS is the meta answer. If instead you did the hard version, you just had to see that the most natural thing for HONS to take on to make it a five-letter plural is an R, and oh hey, if you take an R out of that central entry that was already important to the meta, that gives you the French word for horns; plus, the “exchanged” letters spell out HORNS in grid order. While a few solvers expressed uncertainty about this step, it seems to me it would have been astoundingly unlikely for all of that to be a coincidence, so while the motivation for trying it might not have felt intuitive, the confirmation once you did try it ought to have been solid. But as always, your mileage may have varied …
I hope the French language knowledge required for this solve wasn’t too high a hurdle for too many people. I felt like most of the French words involved in the solve were pretty accessible. AMIE has appeared in the NYT crossword 134 times in the Will Shortz era; BON, 38 times; and LYCEE, 14 times. MAILLOT only has 2 appearances but it ought to be known to even casual observers of the Tour de France as part of the phrase maillot jaune, the yellow jersey worn by the race’s leader. (Anyway, I was too excited to find MAIL (S)LOT -> (S)HIRT to pass it up.) The most obscure pair was the final one – CORNE has only been in the NYT crossword once, pre-Shortz in 1977. (It was clued as “French horn.”) But at that point, you had H-O-N-S and there aren’t a ton of ways to make that into a 5-letter plural; plus if you know some etymology you may be familiar with the word part “corn” meaning horn as in unicorn, cornucopia, cornet, etc. …
28 solvers submitted the correct answer, and even some of you whose limited French vocabulary made it especially difficult told me you particularly liked this one. Merci beaucoup!
Okay, enough Romance languages! This week’s puzzle, “Cut Out the Middle, Man,” has a few foreign entries (including one pretty obscure Slavic orthography term … sorry for that) but the meta should not be easier or harder depending on what language you studied in high school – promise.
The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase consisting of two eight-letter words. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, July 1 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll be traveling next week, so the solution, and a new puzzle, will be auto-posted next Tuesday.