Aug 24, 2023
Advertisement Supported by Wordplay, The CROSSWORD COLUMN Adrian Johnson makes his Saturday debut and puts us to work, baby. By Caitlin Lovinger SATURDAY PUZZLE — This is Adrian Johnson’s third
Wordplay, The CROSSWORD COLUMN
Adrian Johnson makes his Saturday debut and puts us to work, baby.
By Caitlin Lovinger
SATURDAY PUZZLE — This is Adrian Johnson’s third crossword this year and fourth overall for The New York Times. It’s his first appearance on a Saturday. If you’re looking for a challenge, this grid fits the bill. The construction is smooth and self-assured, with a low word count of 64. But there’s a lot of chaotic energy here: four separate blockades of long entries, packed with wordplay and misdirection, some of which had me climbing the walls until it all solved so cleanly that I had to settle down and mutter, “Well played.”
14A. The instrument in this clue — “Five-minute rock classic with an iconic organ intro” — reflexively gets me thinking about Iron Butterfly, but the song the band is best known for is too long (and so is its title, for this entry). Instead, it’s BABA O’RILEY, making its second appearance in the Times puzzle. This intro is instantly recognizable, but the song title was not, for me (it is a reference to Maher Baba and Terry Riley, a spiritualist and a composer.)
18A. “Takeoff in pole position, perhaps?” delights me, in a rakishly dated “Austin Powers” kind of way. That pole has nothing to do with racecars; it’s a prop in a STRIPTEASE.
27A. For “Seeds may go down in them,” think “seeds” as in a sports tournament: The topmost ones go down in games won by the underdogs, or UPSETS.
41A. The “First N.F.L. quarterback to pass for 50,000 yards” sounded like Broadway Joe to me, so I started with “Namath” and changed the entry letter by letter to Dan the Man MARINO, who played for the Miami Dolphins for 17 seasons.
56A. This quadruple stack is so tricky that I needed as much help from the crossing down entries as I could get, so I found the twinned clues for “Reebok rival” at 48D and 50D especially nefarious. I thought that this clue, “They’re often worn at long public events,” might have to do with microphones, so when NIKE made sense at 48D I went with “mikesetups” here (a terrible contortion of “mic packs,” admittedly). These are more organic accessories for eternal-seeming occasions: FAKE SMILES.
58A. What a picture-perfect final across entry in a puzzle that took me many, many turns through to complete: “Take two” solves to FRESH START.
23D. This clue is so specific, and we’ve all seen some kind of marching band. How hard can it be? Well, for “It dots the ‘i’ in the Ohio State marching band’s spelling of ‘Ohio’,” I immediately wrote in “kettle drum.” It’s round, but it’s wrong: The instrument in question is a great big SOUSAPHONE.
37D. “See star?” is a silly masterpiece in my opinion, but I’m a heathen and religious verbiage in puns always goes straight over my head. The “See” in question is holy and refers to the Catholic government, which is led by a pope, or PONTIFF.
44D. After I solved 41A, “Dolphin’s facility” sounded as if it might be a football stadium. This is actually a skill shared by many cetaceans: echolocation, or SONAR.
This maniacal puzzle is a sharp turn from last month’s offering, but one I consider among the best puzzles I’ve ever made.
Most people have a love-hate relationship with quad stacks, especially the dreaded 4x10, but I find them among my favorite type of themeless to solve. If done well — filled with vibrant long answers and few obscurities, that extra answer gives a surprising textural dimension to the puzzle, like the jelly in a jelly doughnut.
No seed entries in this type of grid — instead it’s all about the story told by the stacks and how well the entries as a whole play off each other. In this case, I’m particularly fond of the results. Every long answer in the grid I consider a strong asset, or has a great clue that elevates it into a strong asset (18A, 11D, 54A, 37D, 23D all mine!), or both!
This one goes out to Mrs. Wright’s eighth (now ninth!) grade class, whom I had the joy of teaching the morning this puzzle was accepted, and all the other brilliant educators out there (hi, Mom and Dad) that have started or are soon starting school for the year. Thanks for all you do!
The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.
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An earlier version of this puzzle included an incorrect clue for 39-Down. While the author J.R.R. Tolkien had considered using 39-Down as the language spoken by characters in Middle-earth, according to “The Book of Lost Tales,” he did not use it in his “Lord of the Rings” series.
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