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Garage Sale Pitches – The New York Times

Garage Sale Pitches – The New York Times

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Just as many of us emerge from our tryptophan haze and realize we might have made some extraneous purchases in the last couple of days, here comes Jeff Kremer, a new Times constructor, with advice on how to be rid of the old and make room for the new. According to the puzzle’s print introduction, Mr. Kremer is a management consultant for KPMG in Chicago and his initial interest in puzzles was sparked by his journalist parents, both devoted solvers. He owes the inspiration to construct to his wife, however, who is “obsessed with her solving streak and times.”

Unless you ignore the “shopping holiday” (I certainly do not) the timing of this puzzle is perfect, a sardonic palate cleanser amid the frenetic ad pitching. I think the theme set is really sweet, and the fill is brisk and clever too — good quips all over the place.

There’s a nice mix here of tricky and gentle. I’m not too proud to solve a difficult entry entirely on its crosses (like LAMED, as clued, or BLENDE, which has appeared several times over decades, but was beyond my sad chemistry knowledge). I also don’t mind jokes that take me several passes to get (IT’S A PLANE, yes, went over my head). For misdirects, I had “aft” instead of AGO and “toke” instead of ANTE UP.

35A: No spoilers, but at some point today take a moment to appreciate the intersecting of TOOK A STAB and 16D — I laughed.

49A: It’s been too long since I’ve thought of FABIO, but his fan club stays pretty current. Interestingly, the clue for FABIO, when this entry debuted in 1999, was “first name of Pope Alexander VII.”

43D: As clued, I thought immediately of Frankie Dettori, the jockey who always DISMOUNTed with a leap, going higher than the horse.

83D: News to me, but makes sense: The Banh mi is at least partly influenced by the colonizing French, who make pillowy bread and a variety of PATES. I haven’t knowingly eaten liver in many years, but I have certainly eaten plenty of Banh mis and wondered where that certain flavor came from — I guess I know now. (You can make pâté out of mushrooms, by the way.)

OK, here’s the pitch: Mr. Kremer can sell anything, no matter how long ago it stopped working and took up residence in the corner of the garage where the old wreaths and deflated basketballs molder away. He’s got that positive spin; you just have to turn your pun antenna in the right direction (jiggle it a little bit — it’ll pick up a signal if you get the angle just so).

There are seven examples, which are italicized — five across and a couple in the downs. Take a crack at 23-Across: “TV, volume knob broken, only $10!.” On the one hand, $10, that’ll barely get you a latte these days! On the other hand, no volume knob. In either case, YOU CAN’T TURN THAT DOWN.

A textbook, missing pages, for $2? Call it a LIMITED EDITION. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see college bookstores steal this tactic — a page or two is bound to fall out of a book that you’ve bought and sold 35 times.)

Two fish tanks, with their furnishings, for $2? Talk about ROCK BOTTOM PRICES.

This is a fun, congenial theme set with one off-kilter entry that spices up the whole operation. (Isn’t that how the suburbs work? In the movies, at least, there’s always that one neighbor with scissor hands or Betelgeuse in the attic.)

This puzzle started when I heard CAN’T TURN THAT DOWN as a punchline to a joke about a broken TV. As much as I would like to take credit for that, I believe the original comes from the comedian Tim Vine. And I’m sure others have made similar jokes. As a father of two kids (with a third on the way), I am a firm believer in the art of the dad joke. I’ve recently fully metamorphosed into dad mode by picking up crossword construction and smoking meats as hobbies.

Starting from that inspiration, I pictured an imaginary garage sale that would give common sales tag lines a punny new meaning. I hadn’t seen ad slogans as a New York Times theme despite how many of these phrases we all encounter daily. I was surprised to learn that every theme phrase in my set would be a debut. Once I had written what I thought were really funny clues (I laughed at my own jokes), I was ready to go.

The grid came together easily after I placed NO STRINGS ATTACHED in the middle, flanked vertically by BUY NOW PAY LATER and DOORBUSTER DEAL. This gave me the room I needed to fit in the other theme entries horizontally. A few possible theme ideas I had that did not make the final cut include: FREE OF CHARGE (something about a broken flashlight?), NO PRESSURE (A broken barometer?), FACTORY SPECIAL and IT’S DIRT CHEAP. I am sure there are others that could have worked — maybe you all can think of some other entries with punny clues.

I was pleased to see this puzzle run between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Hopefully it brings some levity as we are all bombarded with ads.

Special thanks to my wife for sparking my crossword construction hobby at the start of the pandemic and for being a sounding board for my many theme ideas. And also thanks to my parents for instilling my puzzle-solving interests from early on and for being frequent test solvers of my creations.

Fans of the American Values Club crossword and its roster of brilliant constructors, rejoice: You can now support their efforts to expand the operation and deliver four times as many puzzles, faster and more furiously, starting soon.

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What did you think?