May the 14th be with you… (NYTimes Crossword No. 0409 — originally published 4/9/16)
Started easily enough with the long horizontal center clue 36A: THEBIGBANGTHEORY (Sitcom on which Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin have appeared). That gave me the crossers 30D: OTC (Like Advil or Motrin, for short) and 35D: NYE (Dec. 31). I soon had: 40A: ANG (Lee making a scene); 43A: SCARERS (“Monsters, Inc.” employees); and 21D: BROMANCE (It may grow between buds). Which also gave me 20A: GLEECLUB (School group working in harmony?). I was feeling confident.
Not so soon… This puzzle kicked my butt. There were a number of clues I just didn’t know, and had to either guess, or rely upon crossers to answer. That is always a slow (and risky) process. I completed the grid in 66 minutes, and only that quickly because I often guessed correctly. Though a few times I did not.
Some of the clues I didn’t know included: 39A: CELIE (“The Color Purple” role), which I misguessed “Clara”); 30A: OSBORN (“The Paper Chase” novelist), I should probably read the book; 28D: TOBIAS (___ Ragg, Sweeney Todd’s assistant), I guessed right on this one, which clued me in to the incorrectness of my Clara; 45D: BATOR (Mongolian for “hero”), feels like this is something I should know, but I just don’t; 37D: BASINETS (Medieval steel helmets with visors), again, I think I should know this one; 44D: RIVES (Tears apart), I said “rends”; 47D: SNITS (Dithers), this one still bothers me, I’m not sure which definition of “dither” might be synonymous with “snit”; 59A: SENATOR (Whitehouse in D.C., e.g.), I was not aware of a Senator Whitehouse; 1A: MOFFAT (Steven who co-created TV’s “Sherlock”), sorry, never heard of him. That’s a lot to overcome, and caused me problems, especially in the South.
Obesity was a sort of minor theme in the puzzle, including: 15A: ECLAIRS (Fat fingers?), I love eclairs; 18A: RAYKROC (Big name in fast food), founder of McDonald’s; and 41A: HARDEE (Wilber who founded a fast food chain).
16D: SCUFF gave me more problems than it should. I had early the final three letters, and knew the first letter was probably “S,” because of the plural nature of the clue for 15A (eclairs), but I actually had to cycle letters in my mind to come up with “scuff.” Of course, I was able to stop at the third letter, so it didn’t take long, but still.
Twice I blew it in the SW when I had guessed correctly on three-lettered answers, and then changed my answers to something wrong. 55D: LLC (Inc. cousin) I had changed to “Ent.”, thinking wrongly that 54A was “Pale Ales” (it’s not — the correct answer is TALLONES [Some brewskis]). 45A: BLTS (Alternatives to clubs), I inexplicably changed to “bats,” until 31D: SHELLGAME (It’s a hard to follow act) dawned on me, and I changed it back.
I’m not even going to talk about the puzzlemaker’s cleverness in the NW with: 1D: MERGE (Command in Excel); 2D: OCALA (Fort town in the Second Seminole War); 3D: FLYER (Circular); 4D: FAKE (Clifford Irving’s “Autobiography of Howard Hughes,” e.g.); 5D: AIRCARRIER (Sky line); and 6D: TROLLING (Unwelcome Internet activity).
In the NE, only later did I come to realize the meaning of 7D: CCC (Six L’s), think Roman numerals. I was helped by 8D: HOUNDDOG (One who wasn’t high-class, per a 1956 hit). I demonstrated my ignorance of establishments of higher learning by misguessing 11D: NEB (Home to Bellevue U.) to be NYC. I completely relied upon crossers for the first three letters of 12D: EDOPERIOD (250-year span in Japan’s history). I was happy when I finally resolved 13D: LIVERMORE (California city for which element #116 was named), and the NE came together for me.
In the South I did not know 46A: PIETISM (Old Lutheran movement), and it didn’t help that I had 44D: RIVES incorrect as “rends.” Once I realized 46A was likely an “ism” this helped me to realize my mistake. But as both words are esoteric to me (“pietism” and “rives”), I had to otherwise rely on crossers to answer both.
I got to the SE last. 47A: SML (Range of sizes, briefly) was a small but good anchor. Once I got 52A: EVIDENCE (Exhibit, e.g.) and 57A: EROTICA (“The Naked Maja” and such — a total guess), the rest of the SE came into focus. I finished on 48D: MCCOO (Marilyn of the 5th Dimension — that one should have been easier for me) and 47D: SNITS (which gave me fits).
Two of my favorite clues today were: 60A: REDCROSS (It may be out for blood), I wanted it to be “mosquito” or some kind of bug or tick, but the reality felt much more clever to me; and 34A: ONION (It has layers upon layers) kind of obvious, and more or less a gimme clue. I’ve been struggling to write this one story lately, and had just decided to reveal the story slowly, in layers, like peeling an onion. I saw this clue as confirmation of my idea, and it made me very happy.