Published On: Sun, Nov 5th, 2023

Solution to Paolo Pasco’s Nov. 5 crossword, ‘I’m Touched!’

Solution to Paolo Pasco’s Nov. 5 crossword, ‘I’m Touched!’
Solution to Paolo Pasco’s Nov. 5 crossword, ‘I’m Touched!’

Today’s crossword kicks off a slate of nine guest-constructed puzzles in The Washington Post! The first constructor of the bunch is Paolo Pasco. Paolo works as a data scientist in San Diego, but on the puzzle side, he works as an assistant editor at the Atlantic, creating the mini puzzles there every Monday to Friday. You can see other puzzles of his at the New York Times, the New Yorker and his website, Grids These Days. Paolo is the author of “Crossword Puzzles for Kids,” and he wrote one-tenth of the puzzles in the A24 crossword book. He’s also one of the fastest crossword solvers in the world; he and Dan Feyer had a thrilling race to the finish in the finals of the 2023 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and he once solved a Monday New York Times puzzle online in 53 seconds. Outside of work and puzzles, Paolo enjoys movies, watching birds and having a good time.

Let’s see what he has on tap for today’s puzzle, “I’m Touched!” There’s a Q&A with Paolo at the end of the post, as well.

Ten familiar phrases have had one letter changed to the bigram AU to create wacky phrases.

  • 23A: [Early-in-the-workweek vibes, in France?] is MARDI AURAS, based on Mardi Gras.
  • 25A: [Excerpt from a legal document subsection?] is CLAUSE QUOTE, based on close quote.
  • 38A: [Pope Sixtus IV’s fancy hat?] is SISTINE CHAPEAU, based on Sistine Chapel.
  • 55A: [Perfume that smells like former NFL QB Jim?] is EAU MCMAHON, based on Ed McMahon.
  • 65A: [Half-man/half-horse leading a church service?] is CENTAUR OF MASS, based on center of mass.
  • 82A: [French composer Jean-Philippe does some musical jamming?] is RAMEAU NOODLES, based on ramen noodles.
  • 92A: [Tool for tightening the nuts on a pig roaster?] is LUAU WRENCH, based on lug wrench.
  • 108A: [Hoped-for reaction to using fuel gas in a comedy act?] is BUTANE LAUGHTER, based on butane lighter.
  • 125A: [Person taking a quick look over a Hawaiian island?] is MAUI SCANNER, based on MRI scanner.
  • 128A: [Queen Esther, appearance-wise, e.g.?] is BIBLE BEAUT, based on Bible Belt.

The puzzle hides a meta element with a revealer that explains the single-letter-to-AU changes at 105D: [Man who changed 10 letters in this puzzle by touching them (the original letters describe his daughter, to his dismay)] which is MIDAS. Take the original 10 letters that were changed, and you spell out GOLDEN GIRL. In some versions of the myth, King Midas hugged his daughter and accidentally turned her into gold, fully demonstrating just how much of a curse was his power. Paolo, however, uses this power for good to create a fun, accessible meta, with some theme answers that I especially loved — I think CENTAUR OF MASS is, well, gold.

He surrounded the theme with an array of funny clues elsewhere in the puzzle, too. My favorite ones were 33A: [Crow saying “SOON” in a human voice, probably] which is OMEN, 117A: [Offense in the locker room, maybe?] which is ODOR, 118A: [Water for elefantes?] which is AGUA, and 16D: [Play store?] which is SPORTS SHOP. I also appreciated the informative, profound video link that he provided in the clue for URL at 10D: [, e.g.]

Let’s hear from Paolo about this puzzle and other crossword matters.


Evan: How did you originally get interested in solving and constructing crosswords?

Paolo: I’ve been solving puzzles since I was a kid (starting with the puzzles in Dell Magazine), but I only got into crossword-solving when I was in eighth grade. I had avoided them for a while since I was under the impression that I didn’t know things. I wasn’t good at them at first, on account of me not knowing things, but I was hooked. After learning the New York Times had an open submission policy, I decided to try my hand at constructing puzzles. Ten years and some thousands of grids later, I’m glad I did!

Evan: How did you think of this puzzle’s theme? Did you start from the idea of King Midas turning things to gold and look for letters to switch to AU, or did you start with a theme answer that you really liked and then find the meta concept from there?

Paolo: The theme started with the Midas touch concept, and the “one letter changes in every theme answer, and those letters spell an apt phrase” structure came pretty soon after. I associate that structure a lot with your puzzles — if you have individual letters doing something, might as well get them to spell out a bonus answer. The biggest restriction for this theme was finding a nice meta phrase that didn’t contain the letters A or U (since turning “A” into “AU” in a theme answer would just look like adding a U). In the end, we landed on GOLDEN GIRL, which I really liked! So much so that I was able to overlook how much of a pain it was to fit ten theme entries that needed to be in a specific order.

Evan: Do you have a particular style of puzzle that you enjoy creating the most (themed, themeless, meta, cryptic, variety, etc.)? And if so, what do you like best about it?

Paolo: I have a real liking for multilayered-style metas, like my Barbenheimer puzzle (published in the AVCX), or the Remedial Chaos Suite I ran on my blog earlier last year. I like doing bits in general, and I feel like doing bits in crosswords is a really unexplored space.

Evan: When you write a puzzle, do you have a particular set of interests that you especially aim to include in the answers or the themes or the clues? And if so, what are they?

Paolo: I’m a big pop culture guy, so a lot of that seeps into how I write clues. In terms of things I try to include in my puzzles, I feel like they generally just come from things that appeal to my Gen Z Asian perspective, since they’re two perspectives that aren’t the most represented in the stereotypical crossword reference base. Other than that, it’s mostly references to @dril tweets and whatever movie I just watched.

Evan: You’ve been a finalist at various crossword tournaments like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Lollapuzzoola and Boswords. For the rest of us solving mortals, how is the experience of solving up on stage different from how you would normally solve a crossword?

Paolo: The pressure of having to solve a grid perfectly on a huge board (and faster than the two ultrafast people next to you) is about as unnerving as you can imagine. One thing I learned after a few ACPT finals that goes under-discussed, though: Since the finals are commentated, and you’re solving with headphones, you’re solving in one of the few scenarios in life when you are 100 percent positive people are talking about you in that very moment, and you can’t hear anything.

Evan: Are there other puzzle activities or projects that you’d like to promote?

Paolo: Nothing much outside of the regular stuff; one fun thing coming up is that the ’90s-themed crossword book “New Grids on the Block” comes out soon, and I have a few puzzles in it! Otherwise, follow me on X @gpaolopasco, where I like to think of every tweet as a “project” in spreading joy and smiles.


Thanks for the responses and your puzzle, Paolo!

What did you think, readers?

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