SUNDAY PUZZLE — After a couple of trippy weeks we have a classic today, a grid that finds a wild little feature in the language, one we’ve all seen before but might not have noticed, and expands on it to make a polished Sunday puzzle. Jeff Chen is involved, and Lewis Rothlein makes his Sunday debut after a run of five Thursdays, so we know we have some theme veterans at work (Will Shortz’s introduction says the two constructors exchanged over 100 emails on the theme alone).
There are loads of interesting entries in this grid today, including the vertical pillars that innocently house the theme today, several of which are debuts. I can’t point out too many sticklers, but if you’re looking for amusement and edification look to HELLO, DISCOS, and ANGLE.
91A: This is a really tricky clue that requires you to make a couple of leaps — “intelligence” goes to SPY, “work” to FILM — to get a debut entry. I sussed it out only at the very end.
109A: Interesting that this term is new to the puzzle: NOBLE LIE. The concept has been a reference and a source of controversy practically since its appearance in “The Republic.”
80D: So, yeah, I had a good chortle at this one — there’s something Walter Mitty-esque about this entry, right? For me it evokes an office jockey pining for adventure and searching online for a SAFARI HAT. “Topee” is a more vernacular term, as well as common and useful crossword fill; “pith helmet” has appeared only once, back in 1951.
96D: The “pilot” here is a hopeful episode — if successful, it will result in a series, which will ultimately meet its demise in a FINALE. There’s no immutable law against a show going on forever, though — we just need to find the right one.
There are six sets of bubbled letters running vertically at 3-, 5-, 12-, 25-, 74- and 88-Down. Were you to solve any of those entries before figuring out the theme you’d be well befuddled — those down entries read perfectly normally, nothing special about those circled letters at all. They’re used to great effect in another set of entries that you need to distinguish on your own.
Depending on the trajectory of your solve, you might have figured this out fairly early, but it could also have sneaked up on you at a fairly advanced state of progress. Some of the examples of the theme are much more accessible than others; we’ll start with a simple one, up in the northeast corner, that many of us probably encountered first anyway. (I did, but I actually skipped over it for a bit and didn’t get the theme until I’d filled in quite a bit of the grid today.)
Let’s say that you have figured out 3D on the crosses to be CELIBATE, so your bubbled letters are E, L, I and B (“bile” reading up, yes, perhaps a momentary misdirect). 17A, GOES, is unremarkable, as is GELT at 22A and TIARAS beneath it. The last across entry to use a letter from the bubbled sequence is 32A, “Providers of books to remote locations.” On the face of it, this entry is “mobraries” — think Mo’ money, Mo’ problems, Mo’ braries, or maybe some whimsical Mo Rocca venture. Or, look up! If your mind has already made the leap to “mobile,” there it is: Read that first M, O, then hook 90 degrees with that B and get B, I, L, E.
Now do a U-turn. A what? Turn 180 degrees, and head back down those bubbles; don’t repeat E, that’s the fulcrum of your pivot. Go back to L, then I, then B — then read the rest of your entry, “raries.” What’s that spell? MOBILE LIBRARIES. As the title of this puzzle goes, “What goes up, must come down.”
This was probably the easiest example to parse for me, maybe because of the way the words in the entry broke; kudos to you if you started with one of the thornier sets, like the one at 5D and 66A. First of all, woe upon you if you thought of PENSION “fund” instead of PLAN. Even then, “Some natural remedies” solved to “medecints,” which looked so much like a bad typo that if I had no idea of the gist today I’d have doubted STRATI at 63D. Instead, read those bubbled letters at the appropriate juncture to get MEDICINAL PLANTS.
The remaining four entries are all more on the difficult side than basic, I think, although it certainly depends on how quickly your eye takes to the trick and how many letters you’ve gotten. They are extremely clean and unstrained, which is always so pleasing as a solver (even more so as constructors, I’m sure). You have a scrabbly term for young and in trouble, a position in a cabinet, the opposite of serendipity, and a rococo characteristic.
Lewis Rothlein: I love working with Jeff because he’s a good listener, leaves no stone unturned in his quest for a polished grid, and is crackerjack smart. And while we agree on the most important puzzle-making priorities, we often come at things from different angles, which makes for a lively and productive back-and-forth.
Take our brainstorming. The following took place over several weeks. We were discussing a theme involving AND/OR, and one of us said, “How about giving this theme a game show angle?”, which led to a quiz-show-sounding “Name two terms related to…”, from which the word “name” triggered the phrase “name drop,” which suggested taking horizontal words that have names embedded and having the names drop down from them in the grid, which led to “Nah, turning-type puzzles are too common,” which sparked, “Not if we can come up with a new variation,” which brought us to today’s theme.
Neither of us could recall seeing a puzzle where the solver had to go one way, then the other, through a string of letters. When we found phrases that allowed this to happen, we thought they were cool, and thought many solvers would think so as well.
Hopefully the journey from AND/OR to “What goes up, must come down” was fruitful, and you enjoyed this!
Jeff Chen: Lewis comes up with interesting concepts. He’s a fun guy to bat ideas around with, and he’s incredibly receptive to tangential exploration. We’ve worked on a few projects together now, and we’ve never ended exactly where we started — sometimes doing something completely different.
It’s such a pleasure to work with him. Mainly just ups!
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