SUNDAY PUZZLE — Jesse Goldberg is a software engineer in San Francisco. This is his third crossword for The Times (and his second Sunday puzzle — his first, from almost exactly a year ago, was lovely and pulled quotations from a famous French kitchen, if you missed it). Many solvers will be familiar with this puzzle-loving constructor’s daily routine: Solve Wordle, check Wordlebot, play Spelling Bee, solve the crossword, in that order.
The fill is bright today, and there are quite a few interesting long entries; it’s quite easy to get a bit lost while looking for the theme.
44A. I drew a blank on this trivia clue, “Andy Dufresne in ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ eg,” and I thought for a while that it might be in the theme because I was misdirected to a homophone. I had “Syd” rather than CYD CHARISSE, which left me with the nonsense word “essapee, as in “SaP.” Ridiculous, but only one letter off from the correct description — Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins in the movie, became a prison ESCAPEE.
94A. This entry surprised me, although I’m an owner and a big fan. “They might get all over the floor” refers to cheerful, rechargeable ROOMBAS.
17D. Mr. Goldberg is a software engineer, and when I saw “Server error,” with a few strategic crossing letters in place, I wrote “root fault.” This doesn’t seem to be a thing; there’s a “root directory,” but it’s benign. Also, the “server” in question isn’t a part of a computer system or a restaurant staff member; it’s a reference to tennis and the mistake of a FOOT FAULT.
53D. “Primeval” makes me think of old-growth forest without people clanging about, grunting and making tools, but STONE AGE is a synonym.
62D./65D. I found the arrangement of these clues to be witty. 62D, “early collaborator with Prince,” leads to MORRIS Day (who’s still touring, with the Time). 65D, “’ru 4 real?,’” reminds me of a Prince lyric.
There are four pairs of theme entries in today’s puzzle that execute the same trick, a letter shift, in which a character hops from one entry in the pair to the other and makes both of the pun clues make sense. There’s also a delightful revealer, at 115-Across, that points out a detail of that letter shift that had somehow escaped me.
Another thing that somehow escaped me while I was solving this puzzle was the actual pairing of the themers. I blame this on finding nearly all the entries that gain a letter first; those are at 24-, 51-, 71- and 96-Across, and they are a barrel of monkeys.
At 24-Across, “Places where some belts are tightened?,” the entry is BELLY BOTTOMS, which is anatomically correct as a straightforward answer, but is also a play on “bell bottoms.” If you noticed the puzzle’s title, you’ll nod here — “Why? Well, Why Not?” makes sense for a theme that requires the addition of the letter “Y” to terms and phrases for comedic effect.
51-Across is amazing. “Lawyer with absurdly exaggerated humor?” becomes a variation on another career path, CAMPY COUNSELOR. 71-Across, “Harvesting machine that needs cleaning?,” gets dark. 96-Across, “Battle between Tinker Bell and Princess Ozma?,” is light as a feather: Both characters are engaged in a FAIRY FIGHT.
I had solved three of those clues before I got anywhere with their partners in crime, which are at 29-, 58-, 80- and 108-Across. For some reason, these were much more difficult for me, and I didn’t see the connection for a while. 29-Across, “Stephen Crane’s ‘The Red Badge of Courage,’ eg?,” solves to COMBAT READ. Yes, yes, famous war novel. Got it. 80-Across was more of a headscratcher but somehow still acceptable: “Doctor’s description of the birth of triplet sons?” solves to THREE TIME SALAD. Ah, yes, Mr. Goldberg, very clever.
Fortunately, 58-Across saved me. “Sleep stage?” solves to SLUMBER PART. Ah! This “slumber party” is missing its “Y” in a case of “Well, Why Not?” That means that COMBAT READ is a play on “combat ready,” and, um, oh, that’s “Three times a lady.”
Finally, at (almost) the very bottom of this puzzle, that little surprise revealer is at 115-Across: “Become aware of … or a homophonic description of four letter shifts in this puzzle’s grid.” I was thinking of “Seeing why” or the like, but this is so much better. Say WISE UP TO aloud, if just to yourself — Y’s up two — and notice the trajectory of each letter “Y” in these theme pairs. They each take a little ride up two rows and fit right in — pretty nifty!
This theme came about serendipitously. Luckily, I happened to notice the wordplay potential when the revealer phrase popped up in something I was reading. It might not be the most efficient way of generating theme ideas, but keeping your brain in “crossword mode” while going about your day can occasionally yield fruit.
Overall, the grid-making process was fairly smooth. As the themers only needed a single letter removal/addition, there were ample options to choose from. I did struggle a bit with the position of the revealer. For those purists out there who like their revealers to be in the final across slot, just know that I fought hard to make that happen but couldn’t quite pull it off. At least not without some ugly fill options that I wasn’t willing to accept.
Hope y’all enjoy the solve.
Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.
Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.
What did you think?