SUNDAY PUZZLE – Jesse Goldberg is a software engineer in San Francisco. This is his third crossword puzzle for The Times (and his second Sunday puzzle – his first one, from almost exactly a year ago, was adorable and pulled quotes from a famous French cuisine, if you missed it). Many solvers will be familiar with the daily routine of this puzzle-loving builder: solve Wordle, check Wordlebot, play Spelling Bee, solve the crossword, in that order.
The fill is bright today and there are some interesting long entries; it’s easy enough to get a little lost while looking for the theme.
44A. I drew a blank on this hint of curiosity, “Andy Dufresne in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, for example,” and thought for a while it might be in the theme because I was misdirected to a homophone. I had “Syd” rather than CYD CHARISSE, which left me with the nonsensical word “essapee, as in” SaP. “Ridiculous, but just one letter out of the correct description: Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins in the film, became a ESCAPEE of the prison.
94A. This entry surprised me, even though I am an owner and a huge fan. “They could end up on the floor” refers to cheerful and refillable ROOMBAS.
17D. Mr. Goldberg is a software engineer and when I saw “Server Error”, with some strategic cross-letters, I wrote “root error”. This doesn’t seem to be a thing; there is a “root directory”, but it is benign. Furthermore, the “server” in question is not part of a computer system or a member of the restaurant staff; it’s a reference to tennis and the mistake of a FOOT FAULT.
53D. “Primeval” makes me think of centuries-old forests with no people chattering, grunting and building tools, but STONE AGE is a synonym.
62D./65D. I found the arrangement of these clues witty. 62D, “Prince’s first collaborator”, leads to MORRIS Day (which is still on tour, with Time). 65D, “’ru 4 real ?,’” reminds me of a text by Prince.
There are four pairs of themed voices in today’s puzzle that perform the same trick, a letter shift, where a character jumps from voice to voice in the pair and makes sense of both clues. There is also a delightful revelator, on 115-Across, which indicates a detail of that change of letter that somehow had escaped me.
Another thing that somehow escaped me while solving this puzzle was the actual association of themes. I blame this for finding almost every rumor that gets a letter first; those are at 24, 51, 71 and 96 wide and are a barrel of apes.
At 24-Across, “Places Where Some Belts Are Tight?”, The voice is BELLY BOTTOMS, which is anatomically correct as a direct answer, but it’s also a “pants” game. If you have noticed the title of the puzzle, you will nod here: “Why? Well why not?” makes sense for a theme that requires adding the letter “Y” to terms and phrases for comic effect.
51-Across is incredible. “Lawyer with absurdly exaggerated humor?” becomes a variation on another career path, CAMPY COUNSELOR. 71-On the other side, “Harvesting machine that needs to be cleaned?”, Goes dark. 96-On the other side, “Battle between Tinkerbell and Princess Ozma?” is light as a feather: both characters are engaged in a FAIRY FIGHT.
I had solved three of those clues before getting somewhere with their accomplices, which are at 29, 58, 80, and 108-Across. For some reason, these have been a lot harder for me and I haven’t seen the connection for a while. 29-Across, “Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, for example?” Resolves COMBAT READ. Yes, yes, famous war novel. Done. 80-Across was more of a headache but somehow still acceptable: “Doctor’s description of the birth of triplets?” solves THREE TIMES SALAD. Ah yes, Mr. Goldberg, very clever.
Fortunately, 58-Across saved me. “Sleep phase?” solves to SLEEP PART. Ah! This “sleepover” is missing the “Y” in a case of “Well, why not?” That means COMBAT READ is a “combat ready” game and, um, oh, it’s “Three times a lady. “
Finally, in (almost) the bottom of this puzzle, that little surprise detector is found at 115-Across: “Become aware of … or a homophonic description of four-letter shifts in the grid of this puzzle.” I was thinking about “See why” or similar, but this is much better. Say WISE UP TO out loud, even just for yourself – Y is over two – and note the trajectory of each letter “Y” in these pairs of themes. Each of them does a little two-row spin and fits perfectly – quite classy!
This theme was born by chance. Fortunately, I happened to notice the potential pun when the telltale sentence popped up in something I was reading. It may not be the most efficient way to generate topic ideas, but keeping your brain in “crossword mode” throughout the day can occasionally pay off.
Overall, the process of creating the grid was quite smooth. Since the themes only required the removal / addition of a single letter, there were ample options to choose from. I struggled a little with the position of the detector. For those purists out there who like their detectors to be in the final slot, just know that I fought hard to make it happen but couldn’t make it. At least not without some nasty filler options that I wasn’t willing to accept.
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