“Dying to Solve”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💀😵☠️

The best part about having one’s own crossword blog is the freedom to explore thematic material that just wouldn’t have a prayer of getting published in a mainstream venue. Of course, standards are constantly evolving. I almost spat up my coffee when I saw BAD ASS in the Times puzzle for the first time, for example.

Today’s puzzle is an example of one that I didn’t even consider sending out for publication, just because of how directly it looks at certain material that’s verboten in the mainstream. Personally, I tend to agree with the convention of generally avoiding “unpleasant” topics in, say, the Wall Street Journal puzzle, but that’s only because it’s *been* that way for so long. It would legitimately be jarring and perhaps off-putting to see profanity (for example) in the paper, just because we’re all so used to *not* seeing it in that context.

That being said, this ain’t the Journal. And solvers on this site know damn well my attitudes toward replicating certain crossword conventionalities on this site. Still, I’d love to hear your impressions on this one. So leave a comment.

Oh, and there’s a Big Rossword out in the wild today. The Sunday Universal puzzle is by the inimitable Amanda Rafkin and myself, and it’s one that I quite enjoy. Give it a solve!

More thoughts on “Dying to Solve” after the jump.

This felt like an idea worth pursuing just because of a) how tight the theme set was, and b) how the themers appear to chronologically “zoom in” to WHEN DEATH COMES.

Each theme answer is a phrase for which the first word can be reinterpreted as a euphemism for death, and the second is a timeline indicator word: EXPIRATION DATE, DEPARTURE TIME, and PASSING MOMENT. And their lengths just happen to allow for successive clues to get more and more specific about the timeline: [Last day?] to [Last hour?] to [Last second?].

And in fact, I was hoping to replicate the pattern a fourth time, but couldn’t find a phrase that would do the job. So the revealer–WHEN DEATH COMES–actually came last. (I’m rarely ever satisfied with only 3 thematic entries.) And, boy howdy, it’s an apt one.

Anyway, now that you’ve solved, you’re privy to this “darkest timeline” theme. What do you think? Are you shocked and appalled? Wryly amused? Cold and unmoved? Talk to me in the comments!

Happy (heh) solving, dear solver.


17 thoughts on ““Dying to Solve”

  1. I really liked it, and it’s enjoyable to explore less-trod thematic territory. Thanks for going there!

    (Seems like 39A is off tho? Unless I’m just missing something?)

    • Hi Kate! I just approved your comment–first time commenters (or commenters from new logins) have to be approved, but thereafter your comments will populate automatically. Thanks for the catch at 39A!

  2. I wasn’t offended by the theme at all. At 78, I can’t help having a sense of my own impending expiration date (and, as if to drive home the point, I’ve recently lost two older brothers). Life is like that … 🤨.

    The PDF I downloaded had a different (and erroneous) clue for 35-Down. I came here with the intention of reporting the error, but apparently it was corrected in short order.

    The clue for 25-Across is a classic (and totally makes up for the glitch on 35-Down … 😜)!

    • I’m not sure how, but the glitches MUST be the fault of the NYT Spelling Bee editor, Sam Ezersky. Thanks for bearing with us. He’ll be disciplined in short order!

  3. You have such a fun grip on popular culture (badgal RIRI), so that’s why I enjoy solving your puzzles! I am… in the wryly amused camp. More than that, I am always in awe of good (and accessible) puzzle creator genius. And finally, shocked? Shoot, all you have to do is open any platform connecting to the world outside our homes to see the real thing. Actually it was a refreshing throwback to the use of metaphors in media to protect our delicate sensibilities.

    • Glad you (wryly) enjoyed it, Ann! It’s a funny thing–I definitely hitch on content in crosswords that doesn’t even register in, say, a TV show or a twitter post. We’ve been in large part conditioned to expect a pretty narrow range of tone/content… and personally, I *love* the “what belongs and what doesn’t belong” in crosswords discourse. Always an interesting conversation.

  4. Mainstream publishers would really 47A this theme? Wow! Pretty harsh of them. I’m not well acquainted with Mary Oliver’s poetry (I know, I know, I should be), but I was able to guess 55A before I figured out the three thematic clues. One of the rare occasions when I was able to discern the theme before completing the puzzle and still having to be explained the gimmick. I enjoyed the brush with mortality, Ross. Thanks.

    • To be honest, Mary Oliver and her oeuvre were only barely on my personal cultural radar. The line was recommended to me by someone I just happened to be talking to about this concept. Thanks for stopping by, Blaine!

  5. You’re right, Ezersky really dropped the ball on this one. Unless, of course, you consider that having a dupe like MAN appear in both the 49-Down entry and its clue is another perk that’s allowable in an indie blog, as opposed to mainstream venues. Personally, I found this to be more of a shock than acknowledging humankind’s collective rush toward self-induced extinction, but that may just be me.

    • You’re right, Charles — two sides to the indie coin. And apologies for the shock; we’ll be back to significantly more anodyne content next weekend… got a special one in the queue!

  6. Go easy on Sam, Ross o’ mine…he tries. Anyway, love this puzzle. And your clues! (I chose to ignore the triple-dupe…Sam shoulda caught it.) Psst…52 Down? Sheets aren’t sails, although it seems as if they should be, doesn’t it? They’re actually lines or ropes. Thank you for an entrancing puzzle!

    • Thanks, Kelly! Sam is a cherished friend of the blog. Any ribbing in his direction is entirely tongue-in-cheek. And wait wait wait. Sheets aren’t SAILS? This I have to look into…

      • Ross, Ross, Ross! I OWED you this…after all, didn’t you steer me right on the correct meaning of OP-ED??? 🙂

  7. One more question that’s nagging at me. 6D: Is “heros” a misspelling or deliberate? Is it the actual plural of the type of hero made in the spot identified in the answer? (I’ve just learned of a meaning of “heros” that I didn’t know, but I don’t see that a South American genus of fish enters the issue—this time!)

  8. When I got the revealer and suddenly understood the true meaning of the already filled in answer to 40A, it instantly evoked the raw memory of the exact moment my mom died surrounded by my brother, dad, and me, early last year. Perhaps its still too soon for that memory to not have that effect, or maybe that will always be the case for me from now on.

    So my enthusiasm for finishing the puzzle was diminished, but not extinguished, and when I was done I admired the theme and its clever progression. I’ve always thought the NYT and some regular NYT crossword columnists took the idea of avoiding negative topics too far. There’s hardly any creative content you can put out in the world that won’t strike a sour note for someone out there. Not to mention that we can’t avoid death by not talking about it, so by all means, let’s talk about it.

    Shocked and appalled? Definitely not. Cold and unmoved, no not that either. I knew even before reading the comments that plenty of people would get a kick out of it, and as I mentioned I appreciated it too.

    • Brent–thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I’m sorry for your loss; I hope everyone is bearing up as well as can be expected. And as for the puzzle, I continue to appreciate the space to talk about these issues with solvers and the xword community writ large. Onward and upward.

  9. Did the puzzle very late this week (was traveling). An early error was identifying the school near U. Penn (2D) as TEMPLE, and so with FLOPPYDISK at 3D, I had _TF in 1A. And I thought that a “Common attachment issue” might be DTF. (Attachment… Umm…) But then I decided that you likely wouldn’t go *that* far from NYT standards…

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