Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword–Sam Donaldson’s “review”
Amy’s attending the Indie 500 event in D.C. this weekend, so I get to cover the Saturday NYT puzzle in her stead. And lucky me! This was easily my best Saturday solving time in recent memory, and I just adored the puzzle. But maybe I’m biased.
Self-blogging is inherently awkward, but perhaps you might be interested in the puzzle’s back story. As I stated in the constructor notes over on xwordinfo, I always enjoy Brad’s puzzles because they teach me lots of new things. When Brad inquired about collaborating on a freestyle puzzle, I jumped at the chance. Collaboration is always fun because it lets me “peek behind the curtain” to see how other puzzle-makers work.
Brad set the wheels in motion by sending me the partially-completed grid on the right. Actually, he sent me two grids, both with the DUXELLES ([Mushroom layer of a beef Wellington]) and DIXIECRAT ([Onetime Strom Thurmond designation]) crossing. I liked this one better because of the fun starter entry at 1-Across, KID’S MEAL ([It may facilitate playing with one’s food]), and the lively entry at 2-Down, I’M UP FOR IT ([Volunteer’s assurance]). I also liked how there were several options for 7-Down and 8-Down. Anyway, Brad suggested I play around with the grid and send him the result. I took that as an invitation to work on another corner of the grid, but I couldn’t help myself and eventually filled in two corners.
Here’s what I sent back to Brad. My chief goal was to give him something smooth, and, with the exception of ASST ([No. 2]), I was happy with the result. LESTERS ([Newsman Holt and others]) may not be the best use of an LES- starter, but it left Brad with more options for 20-Across and 23-Across. I was happiest with SMELL TEST ([Informal gauge of credibility]) and DON’T ERASE ([Chalked warning left for custodial staff]).
Brad took us the rest of the way to completed grid. He makes those 6×5 corners look effortless. I especially like what he did in the northeast with LADY DI ([Spectator who got a standing O at Wimbledon in 1981]). Those crossings look so organic–like they all just naturally came together.
I took the first shot at the clues, writing about half of them. Some of my clues that ended up on the cutting room floor included: [Falsely accused of art theft?], the clue for FRAMED that Brad wisely improved to [Like TV’s Dr. Richard Kimble, famously]; [C-section sites] for ORS (changed to the less-graphic [Where most occupants need masks, for short]); and [Peyton’s Super Bowl XLVIII opponent] for RUSSELL, which Will Shortz and crew changed to [“The Principles of Mathematics” philosopher]. I’m happy that my ideas for the clues at 33- and 34-Down ([Where you might lose and hour] for STATE LINE and [It might gain you an hour] for TIME-SAVER) survived, though here too Brad, Will, and company made helpful modifications to get the final clues to work.
Brad came up with the terrific clue for DIAMOND, though his [Pirates’ milieu] was modified to [Pirates’ place]. He’s also the source of [Trademark Isaac Asimov accessory] for BOLO TIE, [Burn the midnight oil, e.g.] for IDIOM, and [Business reply card, e.g.] for INSERT. Alas, my favorite clue from Brad didn’t survive the final edit: his [Airport patter, briefly] for TSA was changed to [Org. conducting lots of X-rays].
You know how sometimes when you finally meet or work with people you admire you end up not admiring them all that much? I’m happy to report that my respect and admiration for Brad’s work has actually grown from our collaboration. He’s a true gentleman and a delightful colleague. If you enjoyed the puzzle half as much as I enjoyed working with Brad then I’m satisfied.
Good luck to those competing at the Indie 500! See you tomorrow for the review of Merl Reagle’s puzzle.
This was not as bad as recent weeks, but still a toughie. Having said that, GREAT puzzle. Clues had me scratching my head. But enjoyable nonetheless. After all, if it was too easy, who would do it?
Some of my favorite entries and notes:
- 1A [Spanish star] ASTRO – I thought that’s what this might be. In actuality, the top left was nearly the last section I filled in. ESTRELLA is also Spanish for star; I wonder what the difference is…
- 15A [Chain whose ads feature cattle] CHICK-FIL-A – Some of my favorite commercials. And some of my favorite fast food, too!
- 26A [Tasman landfall of 1643] FIJI – I had —I, so I tried BALI, MAUI, etc. Amazing how many islands are four letters and end in I…!
- 31A [Two-time World Cup finals host] MEXICO – France, Italy, Germany, and Brazil have also hosted twice. Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986, replacing original host Colombia after they withdrew for financial reasons. (There: you’ve learned something new today!)
- 34a [His signature song is “Eight if Great”] COUNT VON COUNT – I consider myself an EXPERT on all things Sesame Street, since it and I both debuted in 1969, and this one still stumped me. It’s rare to see him called this. I believe I remember him normally referred to as “The Count.” What I really remember is the laugh: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-(thunder clap)-ha-ha!”
- 57A [Vital] ENERGETIC – Great misdirection clue.
- 8D [Volume specification] – OCTAVO – Someone will have to explain this one to me. Musical reference? Dictionary says the size of a piece of paper; is that really “volume?”
- 12D Plant reputed to repel insects] FLEAWORT – This also in the learn-something-new-everyday category. With minimal letters, I had ALOE VERA in there. It seems to do everything else, so I took a shot…
- 15D [Lapidary meas.] CTS – A lapidary is a stonecutter. CTS short for carats.
- 29D [They’re burned by pirates] BOOTLEG CDS – My favorite clue/entry in the puzzle. Awesome!
- 31D [Mickey’s Pluto, officially] MUTT – Not a Disney fan, never have been. Officially according to what, I wonder.
- 35D [Over-the-line call] OFFSIDES – First entry filled in. It’s sports, what can I say? :-)
- 44D [Noun that becomes a verb by adding an “s” at the end] POSSES – Probably my second favorite clue/entry. Misleading because you don’t think it would be a plural
All in all, joyful anguish. But a terrific puzzle. I rate it 4.75 stars!
More splendid agony. Tough puzzle once again. Middle left and middle right were finished last. Plenty of a-ha moments and great cluing. My favorites, and other notes:
- 1A [Org. whose website has a Track & Manage option] USPS – BOO! (I work for UPS!) I’ll give a shout out to my sister, who is a postmaster!
- 21A [Some Buffalo wings] SABRES – Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. Had me stumped for a while, then elicited a wry chuckle. Probably have seen this clued this way before, but if I have, its been a LONG time. Awesome.
- 25A [Assigning responsibility by committee, in modern lingo] BLAMESTORMING – This one is definitely in the learn-something-new-everyday category. Great word! I’ll have to find a way to use it in a sentence…
- 40A [Where Langley is] FAIRFAX COUNTY – Another great clue. My first though was NORTH or SOUTH VIRGINIA, which fits! As the letters starting filling in, another nice a-ha moment with this answer.
- 53A [Two-time winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar] MARIO PUZO – As expected, for Godfather and Godfather II. I read Omerta, but not the Godfather books. Great writer.
- 9D [Zinc compound] CALAMINE LOTION – I’m thinking this would be something else, like a chemical name or a metallic alloy. Used this a lot to survive the six million mosquito bites I suffered growing up!
- 15D [Many wallets contain one] DRIVER’S LICENSE – EMERGENCY CONDOM didn’t fit…
- 22D [1998 Masters champion] O’MEARA – As in Mark O’Meara. I’m sure constructors leapt for joy when he won. Is he or is he not becoming a crossword staple??
- 27D [Engine protector] ANTIFREEZE – Thinking of an engine warmer of some sort. Nice clue.
- 28D [Slangy event suffix] ORAMA – This identical clue/entry appears in this week’s WSJ crossword.
- 33D [Home to Paris] TROY – GREAT clue. MAISON of course didn’t fit, but once it was filled in, another delicious a-ha moment.
- 41D [Nissan whose last model year is 2015] XTERRA – It IS 2015, but you don’t see these as much on the road. They will live on forever in crosswords!
- 48D [Allen’s successor] PAAR – Always nice to see either of my names in a puzzle! “Cousin” Steve hosted The Tonight Show, of course, before Jack PAAR. This is before my time, so I’m NOT showing my age, just my vast breadth of knowledge! :-)
A solid 4.5 stars. Loved this puzzle