An initial word that is often skipped

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MONDAY PUZZLE — In a themed crossword puzzle, designers tend to include a revealer, a kind of crumbly clue that leads definitively to the trick of the puzzle. In contrast, in today’s puzzle, Jeremy Newton appears to have spilled an entire loaf—to stick with the bread analogy—over his grid.

After understanding the essence of Mr. Newton’s theme, it was a pleasure to discover new dimensions of his execution. Joel Fagliano, senior puzzle editor for The New York Times, echoed this sentiment in his commentary on what made the grid stand out. “It’s so hard to come up with a simple concept that involves multiple layers like this,” he said. Mr. Fagliano also listed today’s crossword puzzle, which he said would “turn out beautifully,” as one of his favorite Monday puzzles in recent years. And we’re lucky to have it fixed now.

Before I continue, I should apologize: The summary of today’s column is a play on words. I’m not saying that, Mr. Newton he owes us explanation – I mean he is us one. Because we learn, by “tracing the path of O in the grid of this puzzle” (33A), exactly what Mr. Newton is up to.

These O’s, which “Zig or zag” (11A) – i.e. TURN – in a zigzag path from left to right, represent the ball in MINIGOLF (18A). I was particularly pleased with the game’s alliterative clue: “A popular pastime played with putters.”

The holes in MINIGOLF are often designed so that their walls can serve as guides for the ball. And here our ball bounces off the TEE (58A) straight into the CUP (8A) and scores a HOLE-IN-ONE SHOT (33/34/35A)! Digital version solvers should see a whimsical animation of completing a winning putt.

I would say that the treatment of this subject was increasingly more verbal than the athlete, it was as exciting as the success it celebrates. And according to Mr. Fagliano, it was not easy to build. “Even the elegance of the HOLE / IN ONE / SHOT crossing the O’s path three ways, that’s just a remarkable feat of design,” he said.

12A. For my money, YO DOG only qualifies as a “slang greeting” if its second word is spelled as slang as the first: “dawg.”

31A. The diagonal line of the O was the only thing that led me to believe that the “Small group of trees” could not be saplings. Only GROVE worked.

56A. The entry for “Zero chance, mate!” often has a partner phrase: “No way” tends to precede NO HOW. (If you solved this entry without problems, you have know-how.)

7D. “The theme of a wistful break-up song” is LOST LOVE, and the Times Crossword seems to have an opinion on who sings it best: On two previous occasions, this entry has been outlined using Adele.

9D. Whenever a guide uses abbreviations, our listing must too. “Argo’s neighbor.” and Braz.” is URU, short for Uruguay.

49D. What’s one way to “Try to lighten up?” For a clue with a question mark, go for the joke; the answer is DIET.

I love crossword themes that use a letter as a symbol for an actual object. A few fun examples from past New York Times puzzles include folded H’s for a ladder and column I’s for a spider web.

For years I played around with rolling the letter O around the puzzle like a golf ball. The concept finally worked when I noticed that O could neatly click the HOLE-IN-ONE SHOT response. Since this puzzle is in a 15×15 grid and not the larger Sunday grid, it seemed perfect for the MINIGOLF theme. I arranged the black squares to help create the kind of winding path you might find on a miniature golf course. The circle for CUP was there from the beginning of construction. And with the grid almost filled, using a shaded square to represent the TEE pad seemed like the best starting point. I’m delighted to see the two visual pillars of crossword puzzles – the circled square and the shaded square – joining forces for this theme.

I’m very proud to call this my first Monday puzzle for The Times! I heard that Mondays were traditionally harder because every answer had to be clean and intuitive, and the rumors were 100% legit. In particular, smoothing out the answers on the O’s rebounding route was a formidable challenge. Thanks to the puzzle team for adding a special post-solve animation to the digital version! I hope you enjoyed this Monday crossword, which I’m unofficially calling “That Fits Nicely!”

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