NYT Crossword Answers: Quarter-pound Things at McDonald’s

I love a layered theme. By “layered,” I mean a theme in which there is more than one element to solve.

In Mr. Chen’s puzzle, the first layer appears when we realize that the answers, as written into the grid, have absolutely nothing to do with the clues. For example, CANOODLES at 16A cannot be considered “Mood setters for a romantic dinner,” unless there is a new brand of sexy pasta that I’m not aware of. However, if we were to remove the double O from CANOODLES, we would wind up with CANDLES, and that makes a lot more sense. Similarly, “Actor Cooper” at 24A is not BOO RADLEY, the character from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but the actor BRADLEY Cooper.

Got that? Mr. Chen has added OO to his theme entries to make entirely new words. That letter addition is a nice find, by the way.

So why are we doing this, Deb? That’s explained by the second layer. The central revealer at 34A helps us out. The “Photosynthetic process ‘inflating’ 16-, 24-, 46- and 56-Across” is OXYGENATION.

Remember the OO’s that “inflated” the theme entries? Another way to think of OO is O2, which is the symbol for oxygen.

I told you it was a breath of fresh air.

It’s been four years since this puzzle was accepted, but I was still confident that I’d be able to solve it in speedy fashion. When you know the central entry is OXIDATION, it gives you a head start!

OXYGENATION?

Breathe, Jeff, breathe …

To my chagrin, I couldn’t solve the lower right corner on my first pass. Or my second. Or my third. That seems to bode poorly for solvers who didn’t create this puzzle.

I’ve taken flak for making puzzles too hard, and I got an opportunity to see firsthand why that’s incredibly annoying. If I were to redo this crossword today, I wouldn’t place so much emphasis on jam-packing the corners with “strong” entries, instead prioritizing making the grid more conquerable.

The constructor’s first and foremost job is to set up solvers for a win. After doing this for over a decade, I’m still learning that I still have much more to learn.

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