WEDNESDAY PUZZLE – This is a welcome debut from Christopher Youngs, who shows off his build chops with a neat grid, tight theme, and solid cues. The first things I noticed when I opened the puzzle were the two 15 letter entries covering the grid at 17A and 59A. It can be a challenge to work with, but Mr. Youngs produced an impeccable grid despite those constraints. Well done!
And speaking of thumbs up, I noticed a musical mini-theme in this puzzle – I can’t help but wonder if that was intentional. By my calculations, there are at least 12 clues or entries that plausibly relate to music (although the theme – spoiler alert – isn’t musical at all!). It may be the case with a strong “builder’s voice” as we call it when builders put their interests and passions into the puzzle, or it may be total coincidence. I was curious, so I asked Mr. Youngs, who told me that although he was music lover, this mini-theme is a happy coincidence amplified by a few tips from the editorial staff.
1A. The âTitan of Industryâ index refers to CZAR in the political context rather than in the historical Russian context. An example of this use of CZAR can be found in the 1928 New York Times article “City Milk Dealers to Appoint a ‘CZAR'”.
15A./39D. I appreciated the cross-reference between 15A (âLiterary partner of Porthos and Aramisâ) and 39D (âSkill never performed by 15-Across, oddly enoughâ). The literary partner of Porthos and Aramis is ATHOS, the third of the “Three Musketeers”, who has never performed a MUSKETEER in the novel.
24A. “Totally wreck, as a noob” is the clue to Internet slang PWN (pronounced like the word “proper” with ap in front). Unfortunately, the index neglected to use the correct spelling of the word n00b, an oversight that I’m sure the editors sincerely regret.
43A. I’m not totally convinced by the “No-can-do” clue for UNABLE – “no-can-do”, to my understanding, applies to an attitude, whereas UNABLE would refer to the person with the no-can-do attitude. No?
65A. We have an incredibly timely clue about the ISN’T entry, which could have been clue in any old fashioned way, but, by sheer coincidence (and possibly because of Mr. Youngs’ love for the music), it turned out to be the “First Word of ‘Send the Clowns’ from Sondheim.” Rest in peace, Stephen Sondheim.
1D. We have another musical clue here, this time with a bit of a pun on ‘chiefs of staff’. Here it means KEYS, the symbols at the front (head) of a musical staff, rather than the heads of a working staff.
12D. The âAmerican Gothicâ painting by painter Grant Wood shows a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a Gothic-style house while the farmer holds a pitchfork in the foreground. So, âOne of the three in the foreground of ‘American Gothic’â is a TINE of that fork.
29D. This clue is a play about the classic daddy’s reprimand “hey, this is for the horses” joke, a sarcastic way of telling someone you don’t appreciate being told “hey”. The clue âHey, for horses?â, On the other hand, asks the solver to identify how a horse might say hey. (Depending on the entry, a horse might do this by saying NEIGH.)
51D. The âVoice with an Echoâ is ALEXA, the name of the capricious mind that Amazon has trapped in its virtual assistant technology. I hope that one day they will release her so that she can finally be free.
Theme of the day
It’s homophones time, folks! Mr. Youngs’ puzzle brings us a set of erroneous homophones in four thematic entries, all of which share the same sound. In each topic entry, the word “correct” in a current sentence is swapped for a homophone to create a new wacky sentence.
In my opinion, the third thematic entry is the funniest of the four. The solver should replace the word “err” with its homophone “air” in the expression “to error is human”, making the new sentence “AIR IS HUMAN” (“We all put things on television sometimes ? â). It’s just plain silly, but it’s still quite recognizable as a play on the original sentence, and I smiled as I entered it into the grid.
I had more trouble with the first entry of the theme, ERR ON THE G STRING, because I didn’t know the original line “Air on the G String”, a particular arrangement of a piece by JS Bach. It’s nice! The other two theme entries were more familiar to me, and I had no trouble filling them out once I had chosen the theme, but because this theme entry came first, my recognition of the theme went downhill. took a little longer than usual.
As with yesterday’s puzzle, no revealer is needed to tie together this thematic set. Mr. Youngs identified a small set of homophones, and while there may be other phrases that could work with these same ERR / HEIR / AIR / EYRE sounds, Mr. Youngs’ notes below clearly show how difficult it was to identify a coherent and interesting theme with a corresponding symmetry.
Although I almost always learn something by solving the riddle itself, I got another “Today I Learned” notes from Mr. Youngs: I had never encountered the term ” chicken egg âbefore reading his notes, and I was amused to learn that such a thing exists. Language is so much fun!
Surely we all winced in grammatical unease seeing a homophone instead of the correct word, write? Or maybe it’s just me.
Themes based on a set of homophones and creation of themes related word games based on homophones are nothing new, but have the two paths ever crossed to form a theme based on a group of egg grains? If they had, I should have missed it, although I might not have solved the crossword for long enough. In my brainstorming for this topic, I had the impression that there could not be too many possibilities because the requirements are quite limited: four words that look alike, that appear in “in the language” sentences worthy of ‘be crossed and which can swap places between these sentences while retaining grammatical sense – while leaving room for wacky but reasonable clue opportunities. Oh, and matching pairs for symmetry too. But maybe I haven’t thought hard enough.
I thought I had a decent theme set with AIR / HEIR / ERR / EYRE, but I wasn’t sure my puzzle would be accepted due to a lack of elegance: two of the original phrases use AIR and none use EYRE. But in the end, it wasn’t a problem; the gate got the green light. The notes that mattered were the ones I played, not the ones I didn’t. I’m happy to finally make my New York Times debut after many failed attempts. I hope you enjoy this comedy of mistakes. And don’t call me Shirley.
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The tipping point
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