Cheap Cab, Perhaps – The New York Times

35D: You write the best essay to win a composition contest. You conduct an ASSAY when you want to test the chemical composition of a substance. If you weren’t conned by that little misdirect, you get a gold (or pyrite) star.

36D: This is such a nice example of a loanword, catchy and fun to say — BONHOMIE. Its derivation is good man, from the French, but I certainly think it can be universally applied to anyone congenial. “Bon Ami,” the homophonic cleaning powder, is also masculine, which implies that your bon ami could use Bon Ami to scrub your kitchen with bonhomie, may it ever be so.

This puzzle’s mini-theme has a funny back story. In the pre-Covid days, I used to create a monthly word puzzle out of sticky notes and post it in my cubicle for any interested co-workers. I even had a leader board sticky note with the names of everyone who had solved the puzzle. Erik Agard sat next to me, so as you can imagine, the leader board almost always had at least one name on it before you could say “sticky note!”

One month, I made a puzzle out of two columns of sticky notes where I changed the first letters of alliterative two-word phrases. For example, a sticky note in the first column read “halted,” and a sticky note in the second column read “silk.” Changing the first letters of those two words yielded “malted milk,” and “m” became a letter that was part of the final answer (which, if memory serves, was “Mahomes,” as in Kansas City’s star quarterback). Another pair of sticky notes read “mighty”/“fight,” and my intended answer was “eighty-eight.”

One co-worker stopped by my cubicle and stared at the puzzle for several minutes, evidently perplexed. We got to talking about which answers she’d already figured out, and she mentioned “nighty-night” for “mighty”/“fight.” Nighty-night! I hadn’t even considered that, but it was clearly just as good an answer. I quickly patched up the puzzle by changing “fight” to “night” (so solvers would know that “night” wasn’t part of the answer), though this amusing find ultimately intrigued me so much that I decided to make a whole puzzle out of it. Moral of the story: Always get your puzzles test-solved!

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