Today’s puzzle took a circuitous route to the blog. I wrote it back in 2019, and it was accepted by The New York Times editorial team as a Wednesday-ish grid. But before the team could slate it for publication, the novel Coronavirus–for which the novelty is beginning to wear off somewhat in my opinion–emerged and, well, changed the emotional landscape of the puzzling community. As a result, Will et al. kept bumping this one down the queue, waiting for a moment when its thematic content might be less of a downer. Eventually they decided it probably wasn’t going to land right any time soon, and asked to remove it from their queue altogether. Which is why you get to enjoy it here on my site, where standards of taste are dramatically lower than in the august pages of The Gray Lady.
I’ll take this seasonal opportunity to give thanks for the Times editorial staff: Will, Tracy, Wyna, Joel, Sam & Everdeen. The Times puzzle comes in for its share of fair criticism as the largest and most profitable puzzle venue. With great revenue comes great responsibility. But I think it often goes overlooked (or perhaps under-remembered) that the Times puzzle under Will deserves, in my opinion, more credit for raising the bars of quality and creativity in crossworld than any other puzzle outlet. Hats off.
Some thoughts and spoilers for “Touched by an Angel” after the jump. Thanks to Matt and Ben for test solving!
This puzzle has its roots in the dual realizations that a) EMERGENCY CONTACT can be reinterpreted as it is in the puzzle as the physical contact rendered by a first responder, and b) that HEIMLICH MANEUVER is an equally off-width 16-letter answer.
With a 16-wide puzzle and only four theme answers (feel free to drop suggestions for what #5 could have been!), there’s a *lot* of real estate for bonus fill. I probably could have pushed the envelope beyond the stacked NW/SE 9’s and intersecting NE/SW 7/8s, but a relatively straightforward theme set like this probably would have felt mismatched with a more ambitious grid layout.
Here’s to hoping no one needed the HEIMLICH during the ritual stuffing stuffing. And by the way, if you’ve never landed on Dr. Henry Heimlich’s wiki page, do yourself a favor. What a career!
These days, if I’m ever tempted to try to make myself cry, I think about Thanksgiving, 2020. A pandemic surge was underway and vaccines weren’t available, so Jessie and I forewent seeing our families–something I’d never done before in 36 years–on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The part that makes me cry isn’t even sad, not on its face. It’s that Jessie and I spent two days making ten dishes that comprised easily ten times as much food as the two of us need. And while we acknowledged at the time the absurdity, neither of us put to into words what now seems embarrassingly plain: we were cooking for the family that wasn’t there.
I cherish that quarantine Thanksgiving for what it was–Jessie’s undercooked babka and all–but this year even more than ever I find myself becoming a staunch apologist of 52-Across in today’s puzzle. The opportunity to make up for lost time can’t come soon enough. Merry Christmas.
Thoughts and spoilers for “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!” after the jump.
I hadn’t heard the phrase HOLIDAY CREEP until I saw it in a recent Christopher Adams puzzle, and I was immediately taken with it. Sure, a holiday story villain category puzzle, even with a revealer like HOLIDAY CREEP, isn’t exactly groundbreaking. But what sold me on this idea was the concept of giving it an aggressively Christmas-y title and dropping it pre-Thanksgiving.
Working with 12-letter revealers is constraining, and necessitated smushing 5 themers into the center 9 rows of the puzzle. I don’t love ALO / ZAK, but apart from that, some nonstandard grid layout allowed for a relatively smooth fill, even with a super low word count of 70.
Today’s puzzle is actually a sub-in grid, since the crossword I intended to post had a thematic conceit which was rendered decidedly *in poor taste* by recent events within the last day or two. Perhaps eventually I’ll share the unfortunate coincidence, but for now, the substitute puzzle is appropriately in *pour* taste. It’s the most recent puzzle I made for Lamplighter Brewery here in Cambridge, and adorns the label of their Wordplay beer. I highly recommend stopping by their taproom if you’re in the area!
It’s also an appropriate puzzle to post on the heels of a trip that Jessie and I made to Cincinnati this weekend to see team USA play Mexico in a much-anticipated World Cup Qualifier. It was Jessie’s first competitive USA international game, so we did the whole 18 yards: the pre-game tailgate, the march to the stadium with the American Outlaws (flares! drums! song!), and drinking to excess in the supporters’ section behind the goal. And lo! The Yanks prevailed 2-0. If anyone can come up with a soccer or sporting event theme answer that meets the pattern of the theme answers in “The Bitter End,” we’d be much obliged. Leave a message in the comments!
Some thoughts / spoilers for “The Bitter End” after the exuberant jump…
I love love love puzzles like this one. They exist in a creative sweet spot that I relish in crossword puzzles. I think C.C. Burniquel is the master of the type. The theme draws from a set of possible words that’s medium-small (think of all the common synonyms for “drunk”), then imposes a constraint on that set (attach a common noun word that suggest a destination event), and use only results that are reasonably clue-able. Generate a cute revealer answer–in this case I was toying with both FRONT LOADED and BACK LOADED–et voila! A tried-and-true punny crossword theme that’s tight enough to be satisfying and flexible enough to allow some discernment on building out a theme set.
There are two things I love as much as crossword puzzles: my fiancée and U.S. soccer. And in two days time, Jessie and I will be getting on a plane to Cincinnati to see my beloved U.S.M.N.T. play Mexico, the first time I’ve seen them in person since I flew to Panama for a World Cup Qualifier before the pandemic. I couldn’t possibly express how ding dang excited I am. For anyone else who’s counting down the minutes until kick-off, please enjoy a crossword with a theme that’ll test your November qualifier window roster knowledge.
If you found this puzzle fun, you can find more U.S. Soccer puzzles of mine via the links below:
-U.S. Soccer “Bend the Curve” initiative puzzles: USWNT / USMNT
For anyone out there not aware the Boswords Fall Themeless League, there’s a weekly ongoing crossword tournament that takes place on Monday evenings. Founders Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb emcee the event live on their Twitch stream, and most participants solve synchronously at around 9:15p (though you have several days to solve if your Mondays are booked). It’s a delightful way to connect with fellow puzzle nerds, and while this season is well underway, Boswords also runs one-off tournaments like their Winter Wondersolve, which I strongly encourage you to check out.
And not for nothing, but Parker and I commence our Cursewords Live stream directly after Boswords concludes, around 10pm, for some live solving and constructing. Check out the puzzle we made live this past Thursday (minus clues), all in about 30 minutes or so!
A couple of thoughts and spoilers on E = MC^2 below after the diminutive and talented Phife Dawg.
Tiny rappers! Little MCs! Actually, I’ve been trying to figure a way to incorporate E EQUALS MC SQUARED (16) into a themed puzzle for a long time, so I’m happy to include it in part in today’s title. Get it? MC Squared? Aha.
Rebus puzzles will always be divisive in crossword, so when I produce one, I’m really, really keen on a revealer answer that neatly and creatively justifies the cramming-multiple-letters-in-one-box conceit. And while SHRINKWRAPPERS does rely on the “or a phonetic hint…” crutch, it still makes me happy.
Jessie and I were also pleased to be able to get five different (w)rappers in there, with the I CAN’T EVEN / EVER SO of [EVE] stacked right on top of the central revealer. Stacking answers can be harrowing, but the relative smoothness of that center section speaks to Jessie’s ever-impressive fillin’ skills.