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.
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!
Happy solving, friends!