1982 holiday country hit by Alabama / SUN 6-29-14 / Grammy-nominated 1998 hit for Alanis Morissette / Minnesota player familiarly / Ray-finned fishes of Southwest U.S. / European coastal plant once thought to be aphrodisiac / Dadaism pioneer / 1980s video game spinoff / Health care giant with tree of life logo / Terrace farming pioneers
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Constructor: Byron Walden
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: "Downright Tricky!" — six theme answers travel down and then veer to the right; the reason is explained in the clue for EL CID (108D: Spanish hero whose 113-Down is represented enigmatically six times in this puzzle) — i.e. the theme answers form six ELs and all the ELs are three-part phrases where each part begins with "C," "I," and "D," respectively:
- 8D: Lament about modern men (CHIVALRY IS D/EAD)
- 13D: Pachelbel classic, familiarly (CANON I/N D)
- 32D: Major African humanitarian concern of the 2000s (CRISIS IN DAR/FUR)
- 38D: Like the contents of many attics (COVERED IN DUST)
- 50D: 1982 holiday country hit by Alabama ("CHRISTMAS IN DIXIE")
- 71D: "Right away, boss" ("CONSIDER IT DONE")
Word of the Day: PICARO (100D: Rogue) —
, , ().
• • •
EL CID thing til the very end, so I had no idea how many of these right-turners were coming or even exactly where they were. CANON I … sounded plausible as an answer for 13D: Pachelbel classic, familiarly, even though that usage wasn't "familiar" to me. Anyway, the whole thing felt like a bit of a minefield, plus the cluing was on the tough side. This is all to the good, though, as I found the solving experience predominantly enjoyable. CRISIS IN DARFUR and COVERED IN DUST felt a *little* contrived/arbitrary as self-standing phrases, but not so much that it hurt, and considering the very high bar set by the theme (six C.I.D. phrases), I am happy to let those pass right on by.
The fill here is mostly solid and graceful (I'm just ignoring AAAA … though it pairs nicely with BBB). There's also tons of interesting little tidbits throughout, like MS. PAC-MAN and I HAD A HUNCH and PADDED BRA and HOG CALLER and MOSH PIT and whatever SEA HOLLY (12D: European coastal plant once thought to be an aphrodisiac) and SPIKED ACES (17D: Ray-finned fishes of the Southwest U.S.) are (whoops, that's just one word: SPIKEDACES). There were all kinds of pesky little stumbling blocks in this one. Right out of the box I face-planted on 4D: Quince, e.g.. I can see a "due" misdirect coming a mile away, but got blind-sided by the Spanish word for "fifteen." Had BANTER for BICKER. Imagined Hollywood was in CA and not FLA. And on and on. Highly pleasing—one of the best NYT Sundays I've done in a while (not the highest bar, but still, dang good).
Puzzle of the Week goes to Zoe Wheeler this week for her American Values Club Puzzle, "Flexibility" (get it here for $1 / read about it here). The AVC is starting to pull away from the pack a little in terms of overall quality (though every week Fireball is right there too). Zoe's puzzle just has a perfect reveal—theme elements are a great visual representation of a well-known expression. You can't ask much more from a themed puzzle—especially from a relatively easy themed puzzle. Easy- to Medium-difficulty themed puzzles are some of the hardest to do well. Cleverness and easiness are tough to combine. Not that American Values Club puzzles are "easy"—they tend to run in the Wed.-to-Fri. level range for me. But Fireball puzzles (also great) tend to be routinely Saturday-hard, so the two puzzles contrast one another a bit, and together provide nice coverage of the themed puzzle difficulty gamut. Nearly every week I find myself solving AVC and Fireball and thinking, "this would've made a good NYT Thursday."